The Committee on Military Sexual Abuse comes to a halt as MPs argue over interviewing the Prime Minister’s advisor.
Without voting on the motion to recall Katie Telford, MPs adjourn for the day.
For the second time in as many weeks, the House of Commons defence committee plunged into turmoil and confusion today as Liberal government members attempted to evade an opposition demand to call a senior member of the prime minister’s staff to testify about military sexual assault.
The Conservatives introduced a motion requesting an appearance before them by Katie Telford, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, to address concerns regarding how an informal accusation of wrongdoing against retired general Jonathan Vance was handled following its discovery in the spring of 2018.
The committee was suspended without deciding on the proposition late Friday.
Two weeks ago, Liberal committee members staged a multi-day filibuster to block the testimony of another former prime minister’s advisor, Elder Marques.
The defence committee is investigating who knew what and when about an informal accusation of misconduct against Vance, the former chief of the defence staff, that was brought to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s attention by the former military ombudsman.
Marques testified that Telford informed him of the allegation and informed him it was linked to a potential claim of “personal assault” toward Vance, which he believed was sexual in nature.
Prime Minister Trudeau went further this week in defending Telford, stating that his staff was unaware of the “#MeToo” lawsuit.
The opposition parties assert that they do not believe the assertion and have asked to hear directly from the chief of staff. Today, the Liberals on the defense committee argued that survivors of sexual assault want MPs to get on with making proposals to halt the wave of violence.
“Let us prioritize the work and get on with implementing the necessary changes,” Liberal MP Sven Spengemann said.
Another legislative commission, the Status of Women committee, is investigating the military’s sexual assault scandal, with a particular emphasis on the impact on women. Additionally, it will make suggestions.
Conservatives stated that the defense committee’s aim is to ensure transparency for what has already occurred.
“It is critical to our analysis to ascertain what Katie Telford was told, how much she directed this investigation and eventually a coverup, because we know no investigation occurred,” Conservative defence critic James Bezan said.
The former military ombudsman’s accusation of wrongdoing was never investigated because a Privy Council Office official charged with investigating the claim was unable to contact the claimant, who requested anonymity.
There is plenty blame to go around: Critic of the NDP
Meanwhile, NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed frustration with Liberals and Conservatives sparring about “who failed survivors first, or who failed survivors most.”
It is not in the victims’ best interests, he said, and there is a “fair” amount of responsibility to go around.
“We have failed sexual harassment survivors in the Canadian military. We are everything, “Garrison explained.
He said that, given that the committee previously heard from former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, Ray Novak, about what the previous government knew about Vance’s personal life, it is only fair that the committee hear from the current Prime Minister’s top advisor.
“If it is true that the information was not delivered properly to the Prime Minister’s Office, that this was an accusation of sexual assault, the testimony we have seen in committee seems to point very clearly to the fact that they should have known,” he said.