Liberals try to block former Trudeau adviser's summons in military misconduct probe

The Liberals moved late Friday to block a House of Commons committee from summoning a former adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to testify on sexual misconduct in the military. Opposition members on the defence committee wanted to hear from Elder Marques before hearings into the crisis were wrapped up.

Opposition members are looking to question Elder Marques

Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon chairs the House of Commons defence committee. (John Woods/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Liberal MPs launched a late Friday filibuster of the House of Commons defence committee to prevent a former prime ministerial adviser from being summoned to testify on what he knew about sexual misconduct in the Canadian military.

The parliamentary dust-up started when the Opposition Conservatives tried to convince the committee to hold at least one more public hearing into the social and leadership crisis that has gripped the Armed Forces.

Elder Marques, who served in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office for two years, had agreed at the end of March to testify before the four-party committee.

Opposition MPs want to hear from the PM's former adviser about claims of inappropriate behaviour by Gen. Jonathan Vance. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Conservatives tabled a motion to hear Marques talk about what he knew regarding allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving Gen. Jonathan Vance, the country's former chief of the defence staff, which were brought to his attention in the spring of 2018.

The Conservatives insisted on a "summons" because while Marques did not decline the committee's invitation, he and the committee couldn't agree over a six week period on a time for him to appear.

Committee chaos

The meeting was thrown into chaos when the chair, Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon, initially refused outright to consider the Conservative motion — and then lost a vote to uphold her decision.

All of the Opposition members — Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Quebecois — declined to back her, and McCrimmon abruptly and temporarily suspended the meeting.

After the committee reconvened, Liberal MPs began filibustering over the wording of the motion, objecting specifically to the notion of using a summons on Marques. 

The meeting was adjourned Friday evening by McCrimmon, who cited unspecified "health and safety concerns."

The committee voted earlier this week to begin shutting down public hearings on sexual misconduct in the military — which have heard 25 hours of testimony already — and to move on to the report-writing stage of its investigation into what members of the Liberal government knew about concerns about Vance's personal life, and when they knew it.

'We need to get on to other work'

Responding to Conservative MP James Bezan's call for an additional hearing involving Marques, McCrimmon, a former lieutenant-colonel in the military, ruled the motion out of order.

"I believe the committee has already decided," said McCrimmon. "They have already voted to deliver a report on this study and that the idea was to wrap up this study, and we have completed our work on this study and we need to get on to other work." 

Bezan said the motion passed by the committee earlier in the week set a deadline for presenting the final report to Parliament and it did not preclude further testimony — especially from a witness who had already agreed to testify.

"I think it is imperative we hear from Mr. Marques," said Bezan.

James Bezan and other Conservative MPs on the Commons defence committee are insisting on hearing from former prime ministerial adviser Elder Marques. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Marques' testimony could be important, because he was the official in the Prime Minister's Office who was consulted after former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne brought forward an informal misconduct allegation against Vance. He was also the official who helped set in motion an unsuccessful review of the claim by the Privy Council Office. 

Vance is under military police investigation following allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving two women of junior in rank which were raised in the media. His successor as defence chief, Admiral Art McDonald, is the subject of a separate misconduct claim and has stepped aside temporarily.

The Conservatives were adamant on Friday about hearing from Marques.

'Critical testimony'

"We would not want to complete this study without hearing his critical testimony," said Conservative MP Leona Alleslev. 

Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld, the Liberal parliamentary secretary for defence, accused opposition MPs of seeking to prolong hearings to dig up political dirt. She pointed out that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has testified twice before the committee.

"Everything for the last number of weeks in this committee has been this kind of, you know, pointing fingers to say it's this person's fault, it's that person's fault," said Vandenbeld.

"What we have here is just digging further and further down to see if we can just keep on calling [witnesses]."

She said the opposition was interested only in claiming a cover-up.

"There is no cover-up here. We don't need to hear from more people," said Vandenbeld.

That drew a sharp response from NDP defence critic Randall Garrison, who said the accusation of "petty politics" was unhelpful.

"I think my Liberal colleagues miss the point," said Garrison. "We've had the minister here. We've has tons of other witnesses and what we know is that the minister came to us and said, 'It wasn't my job. I wasn't responsible. I referred it to others.'

"Therefore the committee has to actually speak to those others to find out exactly what happened."


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.

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