Jonathan Vance pleads guilty to obstruction of justice

OTTAWA — Canada’s former top military commander pleaded guilty to allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct while leading the country’s military on Wednesday in connection with a military police probe to obstruction of justice.

Former Chief of Defense Staff Jonathan Vance is one of several current and former Canadian military commanders under investigation for sexual impropriety. The growing scandal has eroded public confidence in Canada’s military.

“That’s as low as it gets,” said Michel Drapeau, a former Canadian military officer who now teaches law at the University of Ottawa. “It has raised serious concerns how this guy has come this far and stayed in place for five years based on what we’ve learned.”

Mr Vance, 58, became the first former or current senior military commander to be prosecuted last year when military police filed a disability complaint that was remanded to the civil justice system in an unusual move for prosecution. Several military law experts said that the military system does not allow for the prosecution of current or former chiefs of defense staff.

It is unclear when the military police began investigating Mr Vance. But the obstruction of justice charges related to events in February 2021, a month after the general’s long-planned retirement.

In court documents, military police accused Mr Vance, a retired general, of “willfully” trying to obstruct justice when he repeatedly called Maj Kellie Brennan and tried to persuade her to give investigators false testimony. Major Brennan has identified himself in media interviews and before Parliament as one of the people who filed grievances against Mr Vance. She testified before a parliamentary committee that Mr. Vance is the father of two of her eight children.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Anita Anand as defense secretary late last year, he made dealing with the growing list of elite military officers facing sexual misconduct allegations one of her top priorities.

Mr. Vance’s immediate successor as Chief of Defense Staff, Adm. Art McDonald, went on vacation last year when he became the subject of a separate misconduct investigation. The government launched its own review in August after the military police said they had no criminal or disciplinary charges against the admiral. Ms Anand announced at the end of November that he had been released.

Two independent reviews have found the Canadian military to be riddled with sexual harassment. And in 2019, the government allocated about $690 million to settle claims of sexual harassment and misconduct within its military, which were brought in five class-action lawsuits.

Many current and former senior Canadian military leaders accused of sexual misconduct have been investigated, suspended, criminally charged or early retired. They include Vice Admiral Haydn Edmundson, the former military personnel chief who was charged in December with sexual assault and indecent behavior. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Drapeau, who also represents victims of sexual assault in the military, said the situation is making it difficult for the military to recruit and retain members. He added that this should also lead to a review of senior officer appointments, a process over which the civilian government currently has little control.

“We’ve allowed the system to produce these types of results for decades,” said Mr. Drapeau. “Just the sheer number of general officers who have seen it across the way is cause for concern.”

He said that because Canada’s military code of conduct, unlike many other countries, including the United States, does not prohibit consensual relationships between senior and junior officers, he does not expect Mr. Vance to face charges directly related to sexual misconduct. But, he said, it’s possible Mr. Vance, who led Canadian forces in Afghanistan, would have his military honors stripped.

After Mr. Vance entered a guilty plea in the Ontario Court of Justice, he was granted a parole, sparing him a criminal record on those charges. He was sentenced to 12 months probation and 80 hours of community service.

The court also ordered that he have no contact with Major Brennan outside of family law proceedings relating to any of the children he had fathered with her. Jonathan Vance pleads guilty to obstruction of justice

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