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View Karen McCrimmon Profile
Lib. (ON)
I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 31 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the order of the House of January 25, 2021. Members are attending in person or via the Zoom application.
The proceedings will be made available on the House of Commons website, and so you are aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entire committee.
For those participating virtually, I would like to outline a few rules to follow. Please let me know if interpretation is lost at any time. We want to make sure that it is working well so that everyone can fully participate in the proceedings.
For members participating in person, proceed as you usually would when the whole committee is meeting in person in a committee room. Please wait until I recognize you by name before you start to speak. Please speak slowly and clearly, and when you're not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
We will do our best to keep track of who wants to speak and when. It is much easier when it's done virtually via the Zoom application. That helps us to keep track of things. It's being fixed right now, because it's not up at the present time.
Pursuant to Standing Order 106(4), the committee is meeting today to consider a request received by the clerk, submitted by four members of the committee, to discuss the request for additional witnesses pertaining to the study of addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces, including the allegations against former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance.
I will now open the floor for debate.
Go ahead, Mr. Bezan.
View James Bezan Profile
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I want to thank colleagues for meeting during this constituency week to consider a new motion to look at more witnesses and dive deeper into what actually has happened in the sexual misconduct allegations against former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance, former chief of the defence staff Admiral Art McDonald, and others, as this has evolved over the past 100 days.
Therefore, I would like to move the following motion. It was circulated by the clerk about 20 minutes ago, so I take it that all members of the committee have a copy in front of them.
It reads:That, in respect of the committee's study on addressing sexual misconduct issues in the Canadian Armed Forces, including the allegations against former Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance,
(a) recalling that Zita Astravas, former Chief of Staff to the Minister of National Defence, was invited on Monday, March 8, 2021, to appear before the Committee within 14 days and was ordered by the House of Commons on Thursday, March 25, 2021 to appear before the committee on Tuesday, April 6, 2021, and did not appear on either occasion, the committee issue a summons for Zita Astravas to appear before this committee, at a televised meeting, at a date and time determined by the Chair which is no later than Friday, May 21, 2021, or two days following the adoption of this motion, until she is released by the committee, provided that, in the event that Zita Astravas defaults on the summons, (i) the clerk and analysts be directed to prepare a brief report to the House, outlining the material facts of the possible contempt the situation would represent, to be considered by the committee, in public, at its first meeting after the consideration of the main report on the study has been completed, and (ii) the Minister of National Defence and Gary Walbourne, former National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, be invited to appear jointly on a panel for two hours, at a televised meeting, no later than Thursday, May 27, 2021;
(b) that the study be expanded to include matters related to the allegations against Major-General Dany Fortin, lately Vice President (Logistics and Operations) of the Public Health Agency of Canada, which have recently come to light, with a view to addressing these matters in the report referred to in paragraph (c) or, if that is not practically feasible, in a further report to be tabled before the House begins its summer adjournment, and, to this end, the committee invite representatives of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Privy Council Office and the Public Health Agency of Canada to appear as soon as possible to discuss these matters; and
(c) that the provisions of the motion adopted on Monday, April 12, 2021, concerning a report to the House, be supplemented as follows: (i) notwithstanding the motion adopted on Monday, April 12, 2021, drafting instructions and recommendations arising from the evidence received by the Committee after Friday, April 16, 2021, may be sent to the clerk, (A) in respect of evidence received before the adoption of this motion, within 24 hours of the adoption of this motion, or (B) in respect of evidence received as a consequence of paragraphs (a) or (b), within 24 hours of the adjournment of the meeting where the evidence was received, (ii) until Friday, May 28, 2021, the committee hold at least one meeting per week to receive evidence related to the study and at least one meeting per week to consider the draft report, (iii) at 2:45 p.m. on Friday, May 28, 2021, or, if the committee is not then sitting, immediately after the committee is next called to order, the proceedings before the committee shall be interrupted, if required for the purposes of the motion adopted on Monday, April 12, 2021, and every question necessary for the disposal of the draft report, including on each proposed recommendation which has not been disposed of, shall be put, forthwith and successively, without further debate or amendment, (iv) the committee declines to request, pursuant to Standing Order 109, that the government table a comprehensive response to the report, and (v) dissenting or supplementary opinions or recommendations shall be filed, pursuant to Standing Order 108(1)(b), in both official languages, no later than 4:00 p.m. on Friday, June 4, 2021.
Madam Chair, I would like to speak to the motion.
View Karen McCrimmon Profile
Lib. (ON)
Go ahead, Mr. Bezan.
View James Bezan Profile
Thank you, Madam Chair.
As we know from testimony—
View Karen McCrimmon Profile
Lib. (ON)
Stand by for a minute. How long are you going to speak for?
View James Bezan Profile
I'll speak for five minutes or so.
View Karen McCrimmon Profile
Lib. (ON)
Other people will want to make sure they have time to study the motion and maybe they'd be in a position to ask you questions. As long as you're prepared to accept questions afterward, I think that would be fine.
View James Bezan Profile
Okay, let me lay out the rationale behind it. It is rather in depth and substantive.
View Karen McCrimmon Profile
Lib. (ON)
It is, very, yes.
View James Bezan Profile
As we all know, we have invited Zita Astravas to come to our committee. We know that we have had an order from the House of Commons to have her appear at this committee and that she has failed to appear on either of those occasions.
We know from testimony we've received from Elder Marques, Minister Sajjan, Katie Telford, Michael Wernick and Janine Sherman that nobody seems to know how the concerns raised by Zita Astravas regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct and evidence that were presented by Gary Walbourne to Minister Sajjan were received in the Prime Minister's Office and the Privy Council Office.
Mr. Marques said he was notified to look into the matter by Katie Telford. Katie Telford said she believed she was told by Elder Marques about the allegations against General Vance. We have Michael Wernick, who said he was contacted about it by the Prime Minister's Office.
The only person who can shed light on how the information flowed is Zita Astravas. We need her to appear to answer questions related to who she phoned, who she talked to and how many times she talked to different people within the Prime Minister's office and the Privy Council Office.
We also have the claim made by Katie Telford at the meeting at which she testified that she knew that what was being alleged did not present a safety concern. Who told her it was not a safety concern? I believe that Zita Astravas, who received first-hand information from Minister Sajjan, would be in the best position to answer how they knew this wasn't a safety concern and also how these allegations became reported as sexual harassment within all official documentation that flowed from the Prime Minister's Office to the Privy Council Office.
Now, if Ms. Astravas refuses to appear, I think that is an issue that needs to be considered as potential contempt of Parliament. I also believe that if she's unprepared to appear or if the government decides that ministers will appear on behalf of political staff, I then think it's only right that the Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan, will appear alongside the former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne so we can get down to the facts instead of having, “I said this, and he said that.” We need to have both witnesses sitting as a panel in front of this committee no later than May 27 if we cannot have Zita Astravas appear.
Interestingly, allegations came to light on Friday, at the end of a sitting week and before a break week for the House of Commons, against Major-General Dany Fortin, who's been seconded over to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
There's no question that the Canadian Armed Forces has been rocked by all of these allegations of sexual misconduct. There is now concern that the government actually knew about this for weeks. Prime Minister Trudeau said in his presser this morning that he was aware of these allegations and that he didn't do anything with them for several weeks. Canadians need to know how that information flowed and why it took so long to have General Fortin step aside while this investigation is ongoing. Major-General Fortin is saying that he just learned of these allegations when media approached him on them last week.
The Prime Minister was aware several weeks ago, so are we looking at another cover-up of sexual misconduct allegations in the Canadian Armed Forces, which as actually been compounded by the Prime Minister and his staff themselves? We need to drill down, and that's what paragraph (b) is about.
Paragraph (c) ensures that this committee will get to have a report tabled in the House before summer break. Essentially, we can start and still hear from witnesses that this motion calls to hear. We can have at least one meeting a week and have one meeting a week dedicated to consideration of the draft report and making additions to it as required, based upon new testimony that we hear. The purpose here is to ensure that by the end of business on Friday, May 28, we will then proceed to the approval of all outstanding paragraphs and recommendations in that report by a simple vote by roll call.
We'll go paragraph by paragraph, recommendation by recommendation if it's required, because the committee has been stalled on discussing elements of the report or on the recommendations themselves.
Madam Chair, this essentially is an autopilot motion to ensure that we get to the final end of this, that the report will be tabled, that it does provide a provision for minority reporting or supplemental opinion, if one or more of the parties sitting around this table are not comfortable with all of the recommendations, different paragraphs and language within the report.
I think it's fairly straightforward, although this is a fairly lengthy motion. It's clear to everyone that this is about getting down to who knew what, and when, bringing clarity to the conflicting testimony that we've heard from numerous witnesses, including the Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan; Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Trudeau; Elder Marques, a former senior adviser to Prime Minister Trudeau; and officials in the Privy Council Office.
I'm done. Thank you, Madam Chair.
View Karen McCrimmon Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Bezan.
Mr. Barsalou-Duval, you may go ahead.
View Xavier Barsalou-Duval Profile
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to comment on the honourable member's motion, which contains some really interesting points. As I have repeatedly said, this process needs to culminate in a committee report. This work is important and should be reported on.
I think it's positive that the motion seeks to bring witnesses such as Ms. Astravas before the committee, so it can gather more information on the conflicting versions of events it has heard. If the committee is to have any hope of getting to the truth and being able to produce a final report, it absolutely needs to hear from Ms. Astravas.
It may be due to how the motion is worded, but I'm not sure whether the idea is to have the committee produce a final report or a preliminary one. Perhaps Mr. Bezan could clarify that, but my sense is that we may run into problems given the short time frame for hearing from witnesses and the fact that we may not have time to amend or, at least, adjust what we receive from the analysts. I don't know whether they plan to make adjustments to reflect the new evidence from witnesses. I think we need some clarity on that.
The motion also deals with calling witnesses in relation to the allegations against Mr. Fortin, or at least, beginning an investigation into the matter. I have to say, that makes me somewhat uncomfortable. According to the information that's out there, we are not talking about someone in a senior position or a position of authority who abused their power to do something wrong. At least, that is the impression I have. We have bits and pieces of information only. This makes me wonder whether we wouldn't be holding something of a people's court or, at least, investigating the matter ourselves. I have a hard time getting behind that part of the motion.
As for the rest, I look forward to hearing from Zita Astravas and getting clarification from her. If that doesn't happen, though, at least we would have the versions of the former ombudsman Mr. Wallbourne and the defence minister Mr. Sajjan to compare, because they really do not match.
View Karen McCrimmon Profile
Lib. (ON)
Very good.
Thank you, Mr. Barsalou-Duval.
We have Mr. Garrison, please.
View Randall Garrison Profile
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I am happy to support this motion as it has been submitted. We have a critical issue before us. The study we've embarked on is about how a complaint against General Vance, as the former chief of the defence staff and the highest-placed Canadian military officer, was handled.
If we're to move forward on the serious crisis we have of sexual misconduct in the military, which includes a large number of those at the very highest levels, it's important to restore the trust, and that those at the highest levels, both within the military and politically, understand and will take action on sexual misconduct allegations.
To me, that's a fundamental part of what we've been doing in this study. I believe that Ms. Astravas is the one who can answer the question that is still outstanding before us. It's who made the decision not to investigate the allegations against General Vance, and if there was no decision, does this indicate that people didn't really understand the seriousness of sexual misconduct within the Canadian military?
Either one of those answers will be critical to instill confidence among the rank and file serving members and the Canadian public in any reforms that are suggested going forward. For that reason, I am supportive. I could support expanding the issue to include how the allegations against General Fortin were handled. I could also support the motion without section (b) in it.
I'm disappointed that the government rebuffed offers from me and other opposition members to set aside this most contentious report and to finish the two draft reports that we have before us on studies that we began before this study, on COVID-19—
View Anita Vandenbeld Profile
Lib. (ON)
On a point of order, Madam Chair, I believe the member is referring to what happened in camera. There were some other things in camera that I wouldn't mind saying about what Mr. Garrison tried to eliminate from the report, but I won't do that, because that would be out of order, as that was an in camera meeting.
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