Politics

MPs vote to censure Sajjan over handling of sexual misconduct in the Armed Forces

A majority of MPs voted late Thursday to censure Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, accusing him of mishandling the ongoing sexual misconduct crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces and citing other perceived failings during his six-year tenure as justification for the formal rebuke.

Commons formally rebukes defence minister

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was formally censured in the House of Commons on June 17, in part for his handling of the sexual misconduct crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A majority of MPs voted late Thursday to censure Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, accusing him of mishandling of the ongoing misconduct crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces and citing other perceived failings during his six-year tenure as justification for the formal rebuke.

By a vote of 169-151, MPs endorsed the Conservative motion, which also condemned Sajjan for "misleading Canadians about his service record." This was in reference to a 2016 speech Sajjan gave, in which he said he was the "architect" of Operation Medusa, a Canadian-led offensive in the Afghan war.

Sajjan later expressed regret for taking credit for leading the major battle against the Taliban.

While a stain on the minister's record, the censure carries no formal consequences. Sajjan will not face any fines or penalties or loss of parliamentary privileges as a result of the motion.

Speaking to reporters before the vote, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said the motion was a way to send a signal to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the opposition parties "condemn the corrupt and failed leadership."

PM defends Sajjan

Trudeau rushed to Sajjan's defence during a Friday morning news conference.

"It's unacceptable that Conservative politicians would choose to slander Minister Sajjan's reputation," he told reporters.

WATCH: Trudeau says Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan is 'the right person for the job'

'He is the right person for the job,' Trudeau says of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan

3 months ago
1:10
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan continues to have his confidence, after MPs voted to censure Sajjan over his handling of the misconduct crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces. 1:10

Trudeau characterized the vote as a "crass personal attack" on Sajjan. He said the tactic undermines efforts to transform the culture of Canada's military, including the way the service handles allegations of sexual misconduct.

"[Sajjan] is one of the most honest, hardworking people I've ever met. His entire career, and now as minister, he's been dedicated to transforming the culture of our military," Trudeau said.

"He continues to have my confidence he is the right person for the job."

Multiple resignations

Sajjan has faced a torrent of opposition criticism for his handling of allegations of sexual misconduct in the Armed Forces.

Half a dozen senior military leaders have resigned in recent weeks while others, including Admiral Art McDonald, who stepped aside as the country's top military commander pending an investigation.

The senior ranks have been rocked by public criticism over a recent golf game between the former chief of defence staff, Jonathan Vance, and two military leaders.

The outing came as Vance faces a military police probe amid allegations he had an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate and sent racy emails to another colleague. Vance denies the allegations.

Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau announced earlier this week that he plans to step aside as vice-chief of the defence staff after playing golf recently with Jonathan Vance, the retired chief of the defence staff who is under investigation for sexual misconduct. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

One of Vance's golfing partners, Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, announced his resignation this week after media reports about the game. Rouleau said he invited Vance to play golf "to ensure his wellness."

During a heated exchange in the Commons earlier this week, O'Toole said Sajjan must either be fired by the prime minister or he must do the "honourable thing" and resign from his post.

"The Canadian Armed Forces is literally falling apart before our eyes," O'Toole said. "Members of the military have no respect for their minister." He said Sajjan doesn't have the "moral authority" to correct misconduct issues in the Armed Forces.

The Conservatives have also accused Sajjan and others within government of orchestrating a "cover-up" by filibustering Commons committee meetings where opposition MPs were intent on probing the misconduct allegations against Vance and others.

'We will get it done'

Six years after the last inquiry into the matter, the Liberals recently appointed another outsider, former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, to lead an external review into sexual harassment and misconduct in the Canadian military.

"We know that we have a lot more work to do to make sure we create an inclusive environment in the Canadian Armed Forces, and we will get it done," Sajjan said.

Liberal MPs rallied behind their caucus colleague after the censure vote, slamming attempts to question Sajjan's military record.

Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller condemned opposition attempts to 'smear' Sajjan's military service record. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said it was disrespectful for O'Toole to "smear the reputation and military service record of a fellow veteran."

"Minister Sajjan is a highly decorated veteran of the war in Afghanistan and has proudly served Canada. Canadians won't forget."

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Sajjan has served the country "with integrity, passion and distinction."

"No one should be subject to the cheap, politically motivated slanders like we have seen today," he said. "Our democracy deserves better, Canadians deserve better." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

J.P. Tasker is a senior writer in the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

WIth files from Nick Boisvert

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