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Trudeau aide Katie Telford questions if she could've done more on military misconduct

Last Updated May 7, 2021 at 12:00 pm MDT

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff says she has asked herself in recent months whether she could have done more to fight sexual misconduct in Canada’s armed forces.

Katie Telford testified at a parliamentary defence committee today that she didn’t learn the content of a complaint against Canada’s former top soldier until February when it was reported publicly.

She says then-Trudeau aide Elder Marques told her in 2018 it was a “personal misconduct” complaint against defence chief Jonathan Vance, and it was directed to the appropriate channel of the Privy Council Office to be dealt with.

But she says after Global News revealed it involved allegations of sexual misconduct, she has replayed past conversations in her head with female soldiers and asked herself what more she could’ve done to create a safe space.

She says she wonders if she could’ve pushed harder to ensure the implementation of a 2015 report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps that recommended an independent reporting system for sexual misconduct in the military. 

Telford also says she has wondered if she should’ve further questioned Vance when he told her about his commitment to the “Me Too” movement and how frustrated he was that orders were not enough to bring about change.

“Above all, though, I have thought about the brave women and men of the Canadian Armed Forces who face unthinkable and unacceptable harassment and misconduct in the line of duty,” she says.

It’s clear that more work needs to be done, and that’s why the government has announced a new review led by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour aimed at creating external oversight, she says.

Telford was called to testify at the national defence committee by the Conservatives to say what she knew of a complaint against Vance. 

Conservative national defence critic James Bezan pressed Telford on whether she purposely kept Trudeau in the dark about the allegation, and who decided not to tell him. 

The allegation involved an off-colour email that Vance allegedly sent a junior officer in 2012, before he became defence chief.

Military police are now investigating that complaint as well as another allegation that Vance had a sexual relationship with another officer under his command.

Vance has not responded to requests for comment, but Global News says that he has denied any inappropriate conduct.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press