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Canada’s opposition has demanded that minister of national defence Harjit Sajjan either resign or be removed from his post by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as an institutional crisis related to sexual misconduct in the military continues to roil the country.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, leader of the opposition Erin O’Toole said the military was “literally falling apart” under Sajjan’s watch and he should “do the honourable thing and resign”.
The conservative party leader also described Sajjan as an “incompetent minister” who has lost the confidence of the military.
That demand came after controversies over sexual misconduct in the military continue to trouble Sajjan.
The latest episode involved major-general Dany Fortin who was removed in mid-May from his position as vice-president for logistics and operations with the Public Health Agency of Canada, due to an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct that occurred three decades earlier.
Fortin had led Canada’s vaccination programme after being seconded to the PHAC last November. Now, his lawyers have filed a case in a court alleging improper interference into the military chain of command with Sajjan, health minister Patty Hajdu and Trudeau, along with the senior-most bureaucrat in the country, the Clerk of the Privy Council, taking the decision for political reasons.
As Fortin’s legal team challenged the government, lieutenant general Mike Rouleau, the second-in-command in the Canadian Armed Forces or CAF, resigned after it was discovered he went golfing with retired general Jonathan Vance, the former chief of staff. In fact, the entire controversy started with reports of Vance’s alleged sexual misconduct. Vance resigned in January amidst allegations of impropriety of a sexual nature and is facing an investigation.
Sajjan has come under severe criticism in this matter after the military ombudsman of the time revealed that the defence minister was informed of the then CAF, Vance’s alleged “improper conduct” with a subordinate in 2018. In May, an adviser to Trudeau testified before the House of Commons defence committee that she was aware of the allegations. There were accusations that Sajjan did not act against Vance due to their long relationship, as they both served together in Afghanistan.
Vance’s successor admiral Art McDonald stepped aside less than a month-and-a-half into his term as he also faces an investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service.
Sajjan has defended himself, as he continued to do on Tuesday. When confronted with O’Toole’s harangue, he said, “We take all allegations very seriously, as I did and brought the immediate information to the appropriate officials.”
Those explanations have done little to dampen criticism of Sajjan in the media and by the opposition, as O’Toole tweeted on Tuesday, “The behaviour of minister Sajjan is disgraceful to the institution we both once served. He has covered up sexual misconduct in the CAF and has lost the respect of members of the CAF. It’s time for the prime minister to show some leadership and fire his defence minister.”