Politics

Former Trudeau adviser to testify in military misconduct hearings

A former adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will testify before the Commons defence committee about what he knew regarding allegations of misconduct involving former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.

MPs will ask Elder Marques what he knew about misconduct allegations against Vance, and when

The Commons committee looking into an allegation of misconduct against Gen. Jonathan Vance will hear from a former key adviser in the PMO. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A Liberal filibuster of the House of Commons defence committee — aimed at preventing a former prime ministerial adviser from being summoned to testify on sexual misconduct in the Canadian military — is over.

In a statement, committee chair and Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon indicated that Elder Marques, who served in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office for two years, has agreed to appear before the committee Friday to answer questions.

The unusual parliamentary showdown started last Friday when the Opposition Conservatives tried to convince the committee to hold at least one more public hearing on the crisis that has been consuming the military's top leadership for over two months.

Since early February, the four-party committee has been holding public hearings to determine who in the Liberal government knew what and when about allegations of inappropriate conduct involving former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance.

The scope of the examination expanded when Vance's successor, Admiral Art McDonald, became the subject of a military police investigation into a separate allegation of sexual misconduct.

Marques is considered a key figure in opposition MPs' efforts to learn what, if anything, the Prime Minister's Office knew about the allegations against Vance when they first surfaced behind the scenes in 2018.

Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon confirmed Elder Marques will appear on Friday. ((Nathan Denette/Canadian Press))

In a brief statement to CBC News, McCrimmon said the defence committee will meet Friday at its usual time and that she was "happy to note" that Marques would appear for two hours.

The announcement put an end to a bizarre Parliamentary filibuster spectacle that saw Liberal MPs talking for hours on end and McCrimmon abruptly adjourning one meeting and suspending another.

'Infuriating'

Government members dug in their heels over the optics of having one of the prime minister's former senior advisers summoned to the committee. Marques had agreed last month to appear but could not settle on a date — something the Opposition Conservatives said amounted to him declining to testify.

The foot-dragging by the Liberals and the suspension of meetings "has been infuriating to say the least," Conservative defence critic James Bezan said Wednesday.

Bezan said he is pleased Marques will testify.

"Elder Marques knows something," he said. "He's always been a person of interest, but I believe he's talked to others within the Prime Minister's Office and that's what they're trying to prevent us from finding out, including the prime minister himself."

Conservative MP James Bezan says former PMO adviser Elder Marques "knows something" about how the Trudeau government handled the allegation against Gen. Jonathan Vance. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that while his office was aware of an allegation of misconduct against Vance, he was not personally made aware of details until they surfaced in the media in early February. 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has testified to the committee that his chief of staff told Marques of the allegation, which was raised initially by the former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne on March 1, 2018.

The country's former top civil servant, Michael Wernick, told the committee separately that Marques was the one who raised concerns about Vance's personal life with him. Wernick said he ordered the Privy Council Office to find out what it could from the former ombudsman.

The review eventually went nowhere because Walbourne refused to cooperate, having given an undertaking of confidentiality to the woman who made the claim against Vance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

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.

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