Politics

Trudeau says he still has 'confidence' in defence chief after questioning decision to retain top commander

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he still has confidence in the ability of the military's top commander, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, to lead the armed forces through the ongoing sexual misconduct crisis — despite publicly criticizing a choice Eyre made about a senior leader under fire.

Both Trudeau and Deputy PM Freeland pushed back at decision to keep Vice-Admiral Craig Baines in his post

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau changed his tone and said he has confidence in Canada's top military commander to lead the military during the sexual misconduct crisis. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he still has confidence in the ability of the military's top commander, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, to lead the armed forces through the ongoing sexual misconduct crisis — despite publicly criticizing a choice Eyre made about a senior leader under fire.

On Wednesday, Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland both publicly questioned Eyre's decision to allow the commander of the navy, Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, to remain in his post after he took part in a golf game with former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance, who is under military police investigation following allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

"I have confidence in the acting chief of defence staff,' Trudeau said Friday at a press conference.

"I know there is an awful lot of work for the senior leadership in the military to do to regain the trust of Canadians, to regain the trust of the women and men who serve in our armed forces."

The comment marks a change in tone for Trudeau and comes after Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Thursday night he personally has the "utmost confidence" in Eyre and agreed with his decision to give Baines a chance to redeem himself.

"He's absolutely committed to making sure that we create that culture change that's absolutely necessary," Sajjan told CBC News: Canada Tonight on Thursday.

Sajjan is in the midst of a political firestorm over his handling of the sexual misconduct crisis. For weeks, the Conservatives have been calling on him to resign or for the prime minister to fire him. A majority of MPs voted last month to censure Sajjan over his perceived failings on a number of files. 

Acting chief of defence staff, Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre, issued a memo to military members Tuesday saying the golf game showed "poor judgment" but he believes navy commander Vice-Admiral Craig Baines can learn from his error and become a better leader. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau has been steadfast in his support of Sajjan.

"Minister Sajjan, through his service as a police officer and member of the armed forces, has stood against the old boys network every step of the way, and has had regular challenges with them throughout his career," said Trudeau on Wednesday.

Sajjan has been accused of failing to introduce a real change to the military's culture in response to a 2015 report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, which laid out recommendations for tackling an "underlying sexual culture" in the Armed Forces that leaves victims to fend for themselves.

Over the past six months, ten senior military leaders have been swept up in the sexual misconduct crisis and are either on leave with pay pending investigations or have retired.

Freeland said said she was "surprised and disturbed" by Eyre's decision to keep Baines in his role and wondered what kind of message it sent to women in uniform about how seriously their bosses were about changing the military's culture.

CBC News asked Sajjan's office if Eyre consulted the minister about the decision to keep Baines in the post, but did not receive an answer. 

Baines tweeted today that he met with members of the navy virtually this week and "heard honest feedback" and "answered some challenging questions."

"This isn't easy, but the dialogue is important and I am thankful for our people and grateful for the opportunity to remain and be an advocate for change," he wrote.

The government has tasked former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour with leading an external review of sexual harassment and misconduct in the military. Trudeau said today that the government will not wait until the report is completed to start making changes and has asked Arbour to share recommendations along the way.

"Madame Arbour and I both absolutely agree that we can't wait a year for that final report," said Trudeau. 

But Trudeau stopped short of committing to a timeline for completing the government's promise to roll out an independent reporting system for sexual misconduct claims.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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