Conservatives call on Trudeau to fire top adviser over military sexual misconduct scandal

The federal Conservatives laid down a political marker today by calling on the prime minister to fire his top adviser over how his government handled the sexual misconduct crisis in the military.

Motion to be debated tomorrow

Right: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Left: Trudeau's Chief of Staff Katie Telford. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The federal Conservatives laid down a political marker today by calling on the prime minister to fire his top adviser over how his government handled the sexual misconduct crisis in the military.

Opposition leader Erin O'Toole said today his party has put a motion before the House of Commons — to be debated tomorrow — that calls for the dismissal of Katie Telford, the prime minister's chief of staff.

It's the latest twist in a crisis that erupted three months ago, when allegations of inappropriate behaviour involving the country's former top military commander — now-retired general Jonathan Vance — were published in the media.

An allegation of misconduct involving Vance was flagged to the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office in early 2018.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that while his staff had been aware of the 2018 allegation, he was not privy to the details until the reports surfaced publicly. More recently, he said that Telford was not aware that it was a "#MeToo" allegation.

WATCH: O'Toole calls on Trudeau to fire top adviser

Conservative leader calls on PM to fire his chief of staff

1 year ago
Duration 1:03
Erin O'Toole called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fire his chief of staff Katie Telford over how a complaint against Canada's top general was handled.

The Conservatives say they find that hard to believe and have been pushing to call Telford before the Commons defence committee, which is looking into who in the Liberal government knew what and when about the allegation involving Vance.

"We are calling for the prime minister to take action and fire his chief of staff," O'Toole said today. "It is time for Justin Trudeau to stop hiding the truth from Canadians and take responsibility for the actions within his own office."

The motion will be the focus of Opposition day debate on Tuesday.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it's not acceptable for a member of the prime minister's staff to take the fall.

"This falls squarely on the shoulders of the prime minister," Singh told reporters today.

Committee meeting suddenly cancelled

The Commons defence committee was slated to hold another meeting today. That meeting was abruptly cancelled by its chairperson, Liberal MP Karen McCrimmon.

In an email, McCrimmon said the committee will meet later this week and "will be working hard to develop recommendations for government."

She did not address the status of the motion put forward by the Conservatives to call Telford — which was neither approved nor defeated when the committee last met.

"The committee met last Friday but was suspended at the request of the opposition," McCrimmon said.

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

Opposition MPs did ask that Friday's meeting be suspended. They also asked that the debate over whether to call Telford resume during today's meeting — which has now been cancelled.

"The Liberals are clearly trying to run and hide," said Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen. 

Liberal MPs attending Friday's committee meeting balked at the notion of taking up the debate again, insisting that the committee get on with writing its report instead of interviewing another witness.

Telford's testimony is considered germane by both the Conservatives and New Democrats.

After former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne raised an informal allegation of misconduct involving Vance with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan in 2018, the matter was flagged to the Prime Minister's Office.

Former PMO top adviser Elder Marques testified before the committee that he was notified by Telford or by one of her staff members of an allegation of "personal misconduct" against Vance. He also said he didn't believe the prime minister was briefed about the matter.

The Conservatives say they want to know why.

"If the prime minister is telling the truth, and he wants Canadians to believe that he had no knowledge of the evidence of sexual misconduct against Gen. Vance, he will fire his chief of staff," O'Toole said today.


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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