Military second-in-command steps down over golf outing with ex-top soldier Vance

The Canadian military’s second-in-command stepped down Monday after it emerged he recently went golfing with ex-top soldier Gen. Jonathan Vance, who remains under military police investigation.

Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau said in a statement Monday that he was “stepping aside immediately” from his role as vice chief of the defence staff.

As vice chief of the defence staff, Rouleau had oversight of the very police force investigating Vance for alleged inappropriate behaviour.

Rouleau said in his statement Monday that he maintains regular communications with a number of senior officers, including those under investigation, because he is concerned for their well-being. He said he does this “with the full knowledge and consent” of Acting Chief of the Defence Staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre.

He also confirmed he has not issued any orders regarding ongoing military police probes.

The Globe and Mail and other media outlets reported over the weekend that Rouleau and Commander of the Navy Vice-Adm. Craig Baines had gone golfing with Vance earlier this month at an exclusive military golf club in Ottawa. Baines apologized over the outing on Sunday.

In his statement, Rouleau said he realizes how his decision to go golfing with Vance had “contributed to further erosion of trust” in the military.

“I can assure every member of the CAF that none of us discussed any matters pertaining to any ongoing (military police) investigations, or the CAF/DND at large,” Rouleau said Monday.

“However, I understand how such an activity could lead some to perceive a potential conflict of interest and controversy, given the current context, but nothing can be further from the truth. For this I am sorry.”

Rouleau’s decision to step down came the same day as politicians on both sides of the aisle said the golf outing pointed to an urgent need for culture change in the military.

“It shows very poor judgment, and sends entirely the wrong message to the whole country, first and foremost people who serve in the Canadian armed forces,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said at a news conference Monday.

“Our government knows there needs to be a big change in culture and we know that people who are being harassed need to be able to speak out, and they need to have a system where they know their complaints will be taken seriously.”

The military has been rocked by a sexual misconduct crisis this year, as Vance and his successor as chief of the defence staff, Adm. Art McDonald, are both are under military police investigation.

Now retired, Vance faces allegations of having had an ongoing relationship with a woman he outranked, and that he allegedly made a sexual comment to a second, much younger, soldier in 2012, before he was appointed to the top job.

He has denied any wrongdoing.

The Liberals have also been under fire over the lack of action taken on an allegation of misconduct against Vance brought to their attention by the ex-military ombudsman in 2018.

The government recently announced another independent review of sexual misconduct in the military to be led by retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour, who has been specifically tasked with delivering recommendations on independent oversight of the armed forces.

Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole said Monday that the golf outing was “completely inappropriate” and points to a failure by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and the government to implement culture change in the military.

“Without leadership at the top, an important institution is withering before our eyes and as a veteran I’m very concerned by that,” O’Toole told reporters.

“The thought that senior leaders would think this conduct was appropriate shows that the serious erosion of trust that Canadians have for our Canadian armed forces has to be reversed. That comes politically.”

Sajjan’s office said on the weekend the trip was “troubling and unacceptable” and that the minister would discuss next steps with Eyre.

Baines apologized in a message to members of the Royal Canadian Navy on Sunday.

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“I fully accept responsibility and accountability for not understanding how such a public display of support sends the wrong signal as to my commitment to lead in resolving our systemic cultural and misconduct issues,” he said.

Baines said he’s taking a few days of personal leave.

Rouleau was soon set to hand the reins over to Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen.

With files from The Canadian Press

TORONTO STAR