Mr. Speaker, my thanks to the member for Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes for bringing this motion to the floor. I think it is important that we demonstrate to Canadians that the Liberals are blocking the work of parliamentary committees, and that they are stopping us from getting to the bottom of some very serious scandals within the Liberal government, including the WE scandal and the sad case of sexual misconduct by the top officers in the Canadian Armed Forces.
There is talk about ministerial accountability, but then we have ministers who refuse to be accountable. That is why we need to hear from key witnesses, including their staff and chiefs of staff, so that we can shine the sunlight and show Canadians the truth.
Looking at the coordinated effort by the government to stop committees from hearing from witnesses and getting to the bottom of what is actually taking place, it is evident that Liberal members would rather protect their political skins and their political staff than protect those who serve us in uniform. It has become abundantly clear. With revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against the former Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and the allegations against the current Chief of the Defence Staff, Admiral Art McDonald, it is all too obvious that the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have a serious and ongoing problem with stomping out sexual misconduct.
We ask a lot of the brave men and women who serve us in uniform and, in return, we as parliamentarians have a duty to protect those people who have sworn an oath to protect all of us. We cannot allow our daughters, sisters and mothers to work in these unsafe environments. No one should ever be subjected to sexual harassment when they show up to serve our nation.
I want specifically to address the part of the motion calling the former chief of staff to the Minister of National Defence, Zita Astravas, before our national defence committee. She is currently the chief of staff to the minister of public safety. On February 9, revelations had already come to light that General Vance was alleged to have not conducted himself with honour: he had sent an email to a subordinate that was sexual in nature, and that information had been presented to the Minister of National Defence on March 1, 2018. When those revelations came out in early February, we had an emergency meeting of the national defence committee and we brought forward a motion calling a number of witnesses to appear, including Zita Astravas. Nothing ever came of the invitation that was extended to her, dating back to February 9.
Fast forward a month, and we had a situation with allegations coming out against Admiral Art McDonald. We had expanded the study and we brought forward the motion to again call Zita Astravas to appear. Originally we asked to summon her, because it had already been a month since she had actually been at committee and she had refused to appear, so that time we wanted to issue a summons. That was amended by members of the committee to invite her once again. Here we are, almost a full four weeks after that time, and she has not yet appeared.
On Monday, March 22, we brought forward a motion at committee to summon her, to ensure that she did appear to speak to this issue. Again, the Liberals stood and filibustered for a couple of hours to prevent the motion from being carried. It is a sad state when we have government members stopping witnesses from appearing on something as disgusting as sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces. They would rather block hearing from witnesses than stand up for the brave men and women in uniform.
I can also confirm that the clerk of the national defence committee has called Ms. Astravas's office at Public Safety. He has left voice mails, he has gone through the PMO switchboard and he has also sent emails. Ms. Astravas has not returned any of those calls or emails. That is why it is so important that today's motion passes: so we can finally get to the bottom of what Zita Astravas knew.
We know that on March 1, 2018, when Gary Walbourne, the former ombudsman, presented the evidence to the Minister of National Defence, the minister pushed away from the table and said no. He mumbled something about maybe having the ombudsman take it to the National Investigation Service. We know the very next day that his chief of staff, Zita Astravas, reached out to the PCO, Privy Council Office. We know that they also talked to PMO senior adviser Elder Marques, who has agreed to appear before committee.
There is mounting evidence that Zita Astravas was involved in what happened with that information after the meeting, when it was presented in confidence by Gary Walbourne to the Minister of National Defence. Rather, she took that information and shared it with who knows who. We need to talk to her about everyone who was brought into the loop. It could have included Katie Telford, who is chief of staff to the Prime Minister. It definitely could have involved the Clerk, and we know it involved the Deputy Clerk of cabinet in the Privy Council Office. There is so much out there that we need to dig down on.
The stories from the Prime Minister and the defence minister on the sexual misconduct allegations against General Vance continue to change. When this news first broke on February 4, the Prime Minister and the defence minister were pretty much saying that they were not aware of these allegations prior to what was reported in the news. That is false, because we know that evidence was presented to the minister on March 1, 2018, and the Prime Minister later said that he and his office were aware on February 24. They keep changing their stories. He admitted in question period on March 10 that he knew there were allegations, but did not know the content of the allegations. That is not good enough. If they were aware of those allegations on March 1, 2018, why did they extend General Vance's contract by three years and why did he get a raise of $50,000? Where are the facts on this?
If we look at the testimony of Gary Walbourne, the minister refused to talk at committee about private conversations with the ombudsman, and then he pushed away from the table when he was presented with evidence. He now admits that he would not look at the evidence and said it would have been political interference if he had gotten involved in the investigation. Gary Walbourne said yesterday that was “bizarre” and “weak”. That is not a proper excuse.
Yesterday, the Minister of National Defence directed the Royal Canadian Navy to look into an investigation they did of a comment about a red room on a Zoom call, which implied sexual misconduct. The Minister of National Defence cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that he cannot be politically involved and then give instructions to review an investigation. This is a cover-up at the highest levels. The Prime Minister and the Minister of National Defence refuse to be accountable. There was the big raise and the extension for General Vance, who was overseeing Operation Honour, which was signed off on by the Prime Minister.
We need to find out if Zita Astravas waved any red flags to the minister, the Prime Minister's Office, the Prime Minister or the PCO to stop the raise. Was she complicit? Were all of them complicit? We cannot forget about the role of Richard Fadden in all of this. When we heard about these rumours in 2015, the national security adviser, Richard Fadden, investigated them. When this happened with the current Prime Minister's Office and the PCO, they did not even talk to Daniel Jean, who was the national security adviser.
All of this is so sad, and it is important that we address this going forward and have witnesses appear at committee so we can get to the bottom of the facts and to the truth.