Conservatives to call aides to Sajjan, Trudeau to testify about Vance allegations

The federal Conservatives plan to summon two senior Liberal aides to testify on when they first learned of sexual misconduct allegations surrounding the military’s former top soldier — and account for what they did about the accusations.

The Tories said they will ask the House of Commons defence committee on Monday to have Zita Astravas and Elder Marques appear in the coming days, as opposition parties continue digging into the government’s handling of the allegations against Gen. Jonathan Vance.

Astravas was Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s chief of staff and Marques was a senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March 2018, when former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne says he first raised an allegation against Vance to the minister.

Walbourne did not reveal the nature of the allegation, citing a promise of confidentiality to the complainant. But Global News has reported that it was a lewd email that Vance allegedly sent to a much more junior soldier in 2012, before he became chief of the defence staff.

Five days after the meeting between Walbourne and Sajjan, the former ombudsman went out on medical leave. An email, obtained by CBC News, shows that Astravas had been brought into the loop.

“In your conversation with Ms. Sherman [a senior Privy Council Office official], I trust you raised the allegations relating to the [Governor-in-Council] appointment that you raised with the Minister,” Astravas wrote to Walbourne on March 5, 2018.

The Privy Council Office is the department that supports the Prime Minister’s Office.

Astravas, who is now chief of staff to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, and Marques, who left the Liberal government in late September, also discussed concerns related to the Canadian Armed Forces’ commander, according to a Globe and Mail report.

WATCH | Trudeau reacts to comments by former military ombudsman:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne’s claims that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan mishandled concerns about possible misconduct by Gen. Jonathan Vance. 2:39

Tories to summon Sajjan for 2nd round of questioning

Trudeau has said he wasn’t aware of any specific allegation against Vance, telling reporters on Friday that “the ombudsman did not provide sufficient information … to be able to follow up on these allegations.”

Sajjan, for his part, has refused to confirm that Walbourne notified him of any allegations against Vance and told the committee that he was as surprised as anyone when Global News reported two allegations of inappropriate conduct against the former defence chief last month.

“Canadians need to get answers from those directly involved in this Liberal coverup,” Conservative defence critic James Bezan said in a statement on Sunday.

“That’s why we will be moving a motion to have Minister Sajjan’s former chief of staff, Zita Astravas, and senior Trudeau adviser Elder Marques testify at defence committee.”

The Conservatives have indicated that they also plan to call Sajjan back for a second round of questioning.

Military police investigating

The Global News report alleges Vance had an ongoing relationship with a subordinate that started more than a decade ago.

The report alleges the relationship continued after he was named chief of the defence staff in 2015, at which time he promised to root sexual misconduct from the Armed Forces.

Global has also reported on the allegations about Vance sending the email to a much younger female officer in 2012, suggesting they go to a clothing-optional vacation resort.

Vance has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Canadian Press, and the allegations against him have not been independently verified. Global News has reported that Vance has denied any wrongdoing.

Military police have launched an investigation. Sajjan has also promised a separate, independent probe, but it has yet to begin.

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