Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to formally sack Admiral Art McDonald from the highest post in the Canadian Armed Forces to bring some much-needed stability to embattled military leaders, experts say.
McDonald has been on leave from his post as Canada’s chief of defense staff since February, when military police began investigating a sexual assault allegation in the context of a broader sexual misconduct crisis shaking the military.
He has been insisting that he wants to return to his previous role since August, when the police decided not to press criminal or disciplinary charges.
McDonald has denied the accusation against him and has doubled down on his claim from his old job in the past week in media interviews and in a letter to all high-ranking military officers.
That letter prompted McDonald’s temporary replacement, Acting Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre, to remind those same officers that Eyre is in charge.
While the chief of defense staff is formally appointed by the governor general, he or she is elected by the prime minister and serves “at the discretion” of the government, meaning that they can be removed without a reason at any time.
McDonald’s doesn’t have a leg to lean on. Their work is enjoyable and has created disgust, ”said Stephen Saideman, Paterson president of international affairs at Carleton University, who researches civilian control of the military in democracies.
“For cohesion in the army, the government must make a statement and end this. They have the power to do it … Civilian control of the military stops at (Trudeau’s) desk. “
The Prime Minister’s Office only said Monday that McDonald remains on leave “while the government reviews the situation,” although McDonald wrote in his letter last week that “the ongoing process … remains unknown to me.”
McDonald withdrew voluntarily in February after the start of the military police investigation. In August, once the investigation was over and it was clear that he wanted to return to service, the government suspended him until further notice.
The fact that a final decision on McDonald’s future has yet to be made speaks to the government’s inability to control sexual misconduct in the military and provide stronger civilian oversight, critics say.
The case came under further scrutiny over the weekend, when Global News reported that the whistleblower in the military police investigation, Lt. Heather Macdonald, said multiple eyewitnesses to the alleged assault corroborated her story.
She alleges that during a party aboard a ship before he became chief of the defense staff, McDonald stuck his head into his commanding officer’s chest. McDonald has denied the accusation against him.
The longer the government allows uncertainty around the defense chief to persist, the more damage it will do to morale and public confidence, said Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow at the Canadian Institute for Global Affairs.
“I think what is not being faced by the government is the blow that this poses to the trust of service members towards senior leadership,” he said.
“I am scratching my head for the government’s inaction on this.”
The tug of war at the top of the military comes as several other senior CAF officers continue to be the subject of investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct.
Last Tuesday, Major General. Dany Fortin lost a court offer to be reinstated as head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine launch. He faces a criminal charge of sexual assault.
On Wednesday, it was revealed that the Lieutenant General’s facility. Trevor Cadieu as army commander was postponed in September because he is under investigation following a complaint of sexual misconduct.
And on Friday evening, it was reported that the military chief of staff, Lieutenant General. Steven Whelan, has stepped aside during an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct. His predecessor in office, Vice Admiral. Haydn Edmundson, went on leave in March and is also the subject of an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct.
McDonald should have caught the hint that he would not be allowed to return as chief of defense staff in August, when Eyre was promoted from lieutenant general to general, Saideman said.
“At this time when we have this widespread personnel crisis, the person who leads the (Canadian Armed Forces) has to be above reproach,” he said, “and McDonald’s is not without reproach.”
Experts who spoke to the Star also disagreed with McDonald’s claim last week that it has been “exonerated” by the investigation into the sexual assault charge.
“In the Canadian military system, or in the judicial system, the fact that no charges are brought against him does not exonerate him,” said retired Colonel Michel Drapeau, a lawyer specializing in military affairs. “It simply says that there is insufficient evidence or that there is no reasonable prospect of conviction.”
Drapeau said he presumes the government is waiting to make a decision on McDonald until after next week’s cabinet shakeup, when Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan is expected to be replaced.
Sajjan was censured by the House of Commons in June for failing to control sexual misconduct in the military.
“I understand the political reasons for not moving now, but let’s go,” Duval-Lantoine said.
“We are losing sight of the human impact of all this. There are people on the ground who are doing their best to serve Canada, to serve the military, but this affects their well-being in the workplace and could lead to a worse work environment. “
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