Canadian military gets its 1st female vice-chief of the defence staff in major shakeup

An important shakeup is happening at the top of the Canadian military. The deputy commander of the Armed Forces has been replaced. Lt-Gen. Mike Rouleau will step aside as vice-chief of the defence staff to make way for Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen, the country's first woman deputy commander.

Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen is the first woman to become deputy commander of Canada's Armed Forces

Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen is currently Canada's military representative at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. (Facebook/Canadian Armed Forces)

The Canadian military's second-in-command has been replaced as part of a major shakeup of the senior ranks of the embattled institution.

Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen has been promoted to vice-chief of the defence staff (VCDS), replacing Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, a statement from the Department of National Defence announced this morning.

It is happening at a time of extraordinary crisis within the military as the two most senior officers — Admiral Art McDonald and Gen. Jonathan Vance — remain under investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigative Service for alleged sexual misconduct.

After learning last week that he was under investigation, McDonald, who had only been in the job a month, stepped aside as chief of the defence staff.

The normal practice would have been to make the vice chief the acting top commander, but Rouleau was passed over and the head of the Canadian Army, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, was given the temporary appointment by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Rouleau, who is the former commander of special forces, has been moved into a new role as senior adviser on future capabilities.

Both Rouleau and Allen have only been at their current jobs since last summer.

Allen, who as a major-general served as the deputy vice chief, is currently Canada's military representative at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

She will become the first woman to hold the position of vice chief and in that capacity will be responsible for the day-to-day administration of the military.

Allen previously served as the military's director general for cyberspace, director general for information management operations at National Defence Headquarters and joint force cyber component commander.

Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau will be moved aside as Vice Chief of the Defence Staff in order to make way for Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen, CBC News has confirmed. (CBC News)

"I am very pleased to see a strong woman in the vice chief position for the first time in Canada's history," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a briefing Tuesday.

"Obviously, the tasks of everyone in senior leadership in our military is to move forward on ending the challenges of harassment and discrimination in the military, in other systems, as well as ensuring that anyone who comes forward to share stories or allegations is given the support and resources that they need."

Increased political scrutiny

Allen inherits an institution in the midst of a crisis, one that is struggling to salvage its signature social initiative: the campaign to stamp out sexual misconduct, which has suffered a major credibility hit because of the scandals surrounding Vance and McDonald.

There will be increased political scrutiny.

On Monday, a Parliamentary committee agreed to an expanded set of hearings into sexual misconduct in the military.

The House of Commons defence committee has held a series of meetings and heard from a number of witnesses, including former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne, who told MPs he had warned the minister three years ago about an allegation of inappropriate behaviour involving Vance.

An investigation into the claim was hamstrung because the complaint was informal and Walbourne had given the woman his guarantee of confidentiality.

WATCH | Opposition leader welcomes Canada's Armed Forces appointment of first female deputy commander

Federal Opposition leader reacts to Canada's Armed Forces appointment of first female deputy commander

2 years ago
Duration 1:23
Conservative leader Erin O'Toole reacts to the Canadian military's first female vice-chief of the defence staff appointment, Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, who is a veteran of the Royal Canadian Air Force, welcomed Allen's appointment.

"We need more women and more under-represented groups at the command table ... in Ottawa making decisions for this important institution," said O'Toole.

While he spoke highly of Allen, O'Toole called for a freeze on wage increases and promotions for generals and an independent investigation into the misconduct allegations against Vance and McDonald.

"An institution that is very important to Canada ... there is eroding trust in it right now," said O'Toole. "We have to show swift and serious action for the men and women wearing the uniform, particularly the women wearing the uniform."


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.