Defence minister’s office trying to ‘exert control’ over investigations: military ombudsman

Defence minister's office trying to 'exert control' over investigations- military ombudsman-Milen io Stadium-Canada
Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan is seen during a news conference on May 7, 2020 in Ottawa. The military’s ombudsman said Tuesday the minister’s office had placed reports ‘on hold’ and has been ‘delaying their publication and availability to the public.’ (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The country’s military ombudsman has fired broadside at the Liberal government, accusing the defence minister’s office of trying to “exert control” over investigations and ignoring recommendations for change.

Military commander in charge of human resources facing claims of inappropriate behaviour

Gregory Lick’s blistering criticism is contained in a position paper released Tuesday and was prompted by the ongoing investigations into sexual misconduct in the military.

He is calling for the ombudsman’s office to be made entirely independent, reporting to Parliament, not the minister’s office.

“When leaders turn a blind eye to our recommendations and concerns in order to advance political interests and their own self-preservation or career advancement, it is the members of the defence community that suffer the consequences,” Lick said in a virtual media event on Tuesday.

“It is clear that inaction is rewarded far more than action.”

His remarks and written presentation mirror the testimony of his predecessor Gary Walbourne, who told a parliamentary committee last winter that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan refused to look at evidence of alleged inappropriate behaviour by former chief of the defence staff, retired general Jonathan Vance, which had been received by the ombudsman’s office.

Walbourne had made similar complaints and recommendations about independence.

In Lick’s position paper, he cites how the minister’s office had placed reports “on hold” and has been “delaying their publication and availability to the public.”

He writes that the ombudsman has been given “direction on the conduct of systemic investigations” only to have those orders revoked without justification.

The report cites an example from just last week where “the Department of National Defence attempted to exert control over the review and approval of questions” that were prepared for members of the military who are involved in the ongoing systematic investigation into employment equity.

“The office pushed back as the approval process put forth by the department would have undermined the independence of the investigation,” the report said. Lick also said he’s seen examples of case where the defence department sat on “sensitive information that could be unflattering” to the military.

“This cannot persist,” Lick wrote in his report.

He also accused the department and the military of scuttling attempts at negotiating independence for the ombudsman’s office.

“Reporting directly to Parliament would eliminate political influence and ensure that all pertinent information and recommendations regarding the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department reach all Members of Parliament in a timely manner,” the report said.

Lick said the inability of the government and the military to deal with sexual misconduct can be directly related to a lack of accountability.

“The cycle of scandals followed by studies, recommendations for independent oversight, half-solutions, and resistance by the Department or the Canadian Armed Forces will only be broken when action is taken,” the report said.


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