Politics·Video

Ex-ombudsman calls Sajjan's committee testimony 'weak' and 'bizarre'

Canada's former military ombudsman says Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's claim that he wanted to avoid politicizing a potential sexual misconduct investigation of the country's top military commander is both "bizarre" and "weak."

Former Canadian Forces ombudsman Gary Walbourne could have gone to military police or the provost, said Sajjan

Former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

Canada's former military ombudsman says Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's claim that he wanted to avoid politicizing a potential sexual misconduct investigation of the country's top military commander is both "bizarre" and "weak."

In his first television interview since delivering bombshell testimony to the House of Commons defence committee earlier this month, Gary Walbourne responded to some of Sajjan's subsequent statements about how he handled an informal misconduct complaint involving Vance that Walbourne presented to him in 2018.

Walbourne told CBC News Network's Power & Politics that he has no faith in the federal government's willingness to reform the military's system of oversight.

Three years ago, Walbourne presented Sajjan with an anonymous complaint of misconduct against the chief of the defence staff at the time, Gen. Jonathan Vance. The minister refused to look at the evidence and later called in the Privy Council Office, which has jurisdiction over governor-in-council appointments, to investigate.

Sajjan, in separate testimony before the defence committee, defended his actions, saying he didn't want to politicize the potential investigation. He stuck to that line in testimony today before the Commons committee on the Status of Women.

"In my opinion, that's a little weak," Walbourne told host Vassy Kapelos. "It was a concern raised by a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. She had come to me looking for confidence and assurance. I had given her that, at my level, and went to the minister looking for the same. So, you know, I find that response a little bizarre."

Watch:  Defence minister defends handling of misconduct allegations against military commanders

Sajjan's political interference defence is 'a little weak': Former ombudsman

6 months ago
9:05
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan insists he couldn't have been involved in reviewing a 2018 complaint against General Jonathan Vance because it would amount to political interference. "In my opinion, Vassy, that's a little weak," said former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne. "He could have at least spoken to me about the evidence I was holding." 9:05

In his testimony today, Sajjan said he told Walbourne to go to military police or the provost marshal to report his concerns. The former ombudsman today pushed back against that version of events.

"He could have at least spoken to me about the evidence I was holding," Walbourne told Kapelos. "But instead, he pushed away from the table, said no. And contrary to what he says, he never gave me any advice and he never spoke to me again."

Sajjan has insisted repeatedly he was not the person the ombudsman should have asked for advice.

"Drawing an elected official – a politician – into the sequence of an investigation would have been wrong and dangerous," Sajjan told MPs on the defence committee earlier this month.

"Politicizing any investigation threatens a just outcome for those who come forward. Given his position and experience, Mr. Walbourne should have known this."

The former ombudsman said he doesn't believe the federal government is willing to take the necessary steps to ensure the complaints process is truly independent.

"If we don't get it right, I don't want to come back in six months and have this conversation with you again. I'd rather not do that," he told Kapelos.

You can watch full episodes of Power & Politics on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.

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