Gen. Wayne Eyre can drop the word “acting” from his title. Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed him chief of the defence staff — the top position in Canada’s military — on a permanent basis.
Eyre, the former commander of the Canadian Army and an Afghanistan combat veteran, has been filling the defence chief’s role on an acting basis since Admiral Art McDonald voluntarily stepped aside in February after being informed he was under investigation for sexual misconduct.
Last summer, military police concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge McDonald with any criminal or code of service discipline offence in relation to an alleged incident more than a decade ago aboard HMCS Montreal.
In a media statement, Trudeau said he has full confidence in Eyre and noted that the last several months have been a trial by fire.
“Throughout his career, General Eyre has demonstrated dedicated service to his country and to Canadians,” the prime minister said.
“Over the past year, his lived experience has played a vital role in providing strong leadership and helping Canadians across the country as they faced important and increasingly difficult challenges.”
Trudeau said he’s certain Eyre “will continue working hard to build and oversee cultural change in the Canadian Armed Forces, and to gain trust and confidence of survivors of sexual misconduct.”
In a tweet, Eyre said: “It is an honour to serve substantively as Canada’s CDS. I am proud to wear this uniform, and to serve alongside a team of incredibly dedicated and motivated Canadians.”
Newly appointed Defence Minister Anita Anand said she looks forward to working with Eyre as they implement reforms to address sexual misconduct in the military.
Eyre’s permanent appointment is not a surprise. He was promoted to full general earlier this year — a signal that he was being considered as a permanent replacement for McDonald.
Since stepping back from the CDS position, McDonald has conducted a high-profile public campaign to win his job back.
McDonald spoke with Eyre and indicated he is putting in his notice to retire, according to his lawyer, retired lieutenant colonel Rory Fowler.
Fowler also said the press release on his termination was issued before McDonald himself was formally notified.
Asked if Admiral McDonald believed he was treated fairly and given due process, Fowler responded: “No, he doesn’t. And neither do I.”
Going into question period in the House of Commons today, Anand refused to say what will happen to McDonald or whether the government is anticipating a court challenge of the decision to name Eyre the permanent CDS.
As a governor-in-council appointment, the defence chief “serves at the pleasure of the prime minister,” she said.
The Order-in-Council letter outlining McDonald’s termination said he “no longer has the confidence” of the government. The dismissal comes after the admiral was asked to put forward a written submission to the Privy Council Office (PCO) outlining why he should remain in the job.
Anand would not elaborate on the government’s reasons for letting McDonald go. “He is no longer chief of the defence staff,” she responded tersely.
As part of his public campaign to win back his job, McDonald wrote an extraordinary appeal to his fellow flag officers and members of the Canadian Armed Forces arguing that he should be restored as CDS. That drew an extraordinary public rebuke from Harjit Sajjan, the defence minister at time, and from Eyre himself.
The letter was cited as a factor in the PCO letter revoking his position.
Anand called the letter “shocking” and later Thursday during an appearance on CBC’s Power & Powers, she was more direct.
“It is important to realize, as stated in the Order in Council, that the Governor General signed and issued today, that it’s necessary to execute your duties in this role in a way that is over and above simply acting within the bounds of the law,” said Anand. “And there were a number of instances that occurred, before my tenure, that were of concern, I believe.”
She did not elaborate on what “a number of instances” meant.
During his “acting” tenure, Eyre has faced criticism for some of decisions.
Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the jury is still out on whether he understands fully what culture change will require, but on the whole his appointment allows the institution to start putting itself back together.
“I think it will stabilize the Canadian Army because right now most of the leadership of the Canadian Army has been acting,” she said.