Military ombudsman blasts Liberal government 'inaction' over sexual misconduct, demands more independence

'It is clear that inaction is rewarded far more than action'

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OTTAWA – The military ombudsman is demanding the federal government give his office “full independence” from the department of national defence and the minister’s office during a press conference where he lambasted the government for advancing “political interests” instead of addressing the sexual misconduct crisis in the Canadian Armed Forces.


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In a position paper presented Tuesday, National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces Ombudsman Gregory Lick also noted that his office is the victim of “subtle and insidious” attempts by the federal department to “exert control” over its work and investigations.

“The ongoing sexual misconduct scandal within the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence is moving from crisis to tragedy,” Lick began during a press conference Tuesday.

His speech was remarkable for its bluntness and critical tone and tenor towards government, coming from an ombudsman who is still in post (Lick was nominated by the Liberal government in 2018).

He took offense to the government’s “inaction” when addressing the sexual misconduct crisis within the CAF, said that internal mechanisms meant to support victims of misconduct have gone from “broken” to “collapsed” and denounced the fact that most promises for change have turned into “checklist exercises.”

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“When leaders turn a blind eye to our recommendations and concerns in order to advance political interests and their own self-preservation or career advancement, it is the members of the defence community that suffer the consequences. It is clear that inaction is rewarded far more than action,” Lick said.


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“In the four months since the most recent outbreak of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, the actions of the Minister of National Defence, senior government and military officials have bitterly proved this point. The erratic behaviour of leadership defies common sense or reason. The concept of Ministerial accountability has been absent,” he continued.

Lick also criticized the fact that his office still reports to the minister of national defence, a relationship that his office has repeatedly told the government “does not work.”

To help address sexual misconduct and any other issue plaguing the CAF, he presented a position paper containing a list of “must-have” reforms and new legislation that he says would further empower his office, as well as have him report to Parliament instead of the minister’s office so he can carry out his work “unimpeded.”

The Liberal government and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan have been mired in controversy for months now after critics accused them of inaction regarding a series of sexual misconduct allegations against former Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance. Global News first reported on the allegations in February, and Vance — who is currently under investigation by military police — has since denied any wrongdoing.

Brig.Gen. Jon Vance with Lt.-Col. Harjit Sajjan in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, May 16, 2008.
Brig.Gen. Jon Vance with Lt.-Col. Harjit Sajjan in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, May 16, 2008. Photo by Matthew Fisher/ National Post/File

Then in March, Former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne told a parliamentary committee that had brought details about one allegation of sexual misconduct involving Vance to Sajjan back in 2018. But he said Sajjan declined to accept the evidence, though the committee later learned that the Prime Minister’s Office and Privy Council Office were also informed there were allegations.


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In response to the controversy, Sajjan announced yet another review into sexual misconduct in the Canadian military, this time to be led by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour. This came roughly six years after former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps tabled an explosive report on the same issue.

In a statement in response to Lick, Sajjan reiterated his commitment to implementing the recommendations in Arbour’s report and said he expected her to consider the ombudsman’s request in her study.

“I have always had a professional working relationship with Mr. Lick. As Mr. Lick said today, there has been no political interference with his office. Further, I expect he would have alerted me if he felt there was a problem with the relations between our offices. That has never happened,” Sajjan added in a statement.

But the measures proposed by Sajjan are far from enough, according to Lick, who bluntly said that “there is very little real change on the horizon” as of now.

“The cycle of scandals followed by studies, recommendations for independent oversight, half-solutions, and resistance by the Department or the Canadian Armed Forces will only be broken when action is taken,” he said.

“In the event that more talk of ‘review’ surfaces in response to this press conference and my position paper, I have included in the paper an outline of all the reviews already conducted on the subject since 1977. They are numerous and thorough,” he added.

In a statement after Lick’s press conference, Conservative leader Erin O’Toole said that the changes demanded by the ombudsman would not occur under the “corrupt” Liberal government.

“The decision to fire Justin Trudeau and Minister Sajjan will ultimately be made by voters, but it is clear from today’s comments by the Defence Ombudsman that the corruption in Ottawa needs to end,” O’Toole said.

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