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Conservatives call on Trudeau to allow Telford to testify on Vance complaint

OTTAWA — Conservatives are calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to allow his chief of staff to testify at a parliamentary committee about what she knew about a complaint involving former defence chief Jonathan Vance. 

Questions have emerged about what Katie Telford and the Prime Minister’s Office knew of the situation after recent statements from a former Trudeau aide to a committee looking into sexual misconduct in the military. 

Elder Marques testified last week that Telford or an assistant contacted him in early March 2018 to speak with a top aide of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan about an issue involving Vance. 

That request came shortly after then-military ombudsman Gary Walbourne raised a complaint against Vance of inappropriate sexual behaviour with Sajjan during a closed-door meeting on March 1, 2018.

While the nature of the complaint reported by Walbourne has not been confirmed, Global has reported that it involves a lewd email Vance allegedly sent to a service member he significantly outranked in 2012, before he became commander of Canada’s military.

Vance, who stepped down as chief of the defence staff in January and retired from the military in April, has not responded to requests for comment from The Canadian Press, but Global has reported he denies any wrongdoing.

Trudeau has defended Telford and his office by saying while it knew there was a complaint against the now-retired general, his office didn’t know the nature of it or that it was a “Me Too” complaint.  

Conservative MPs including leader Erin O’Toole claim previous testimony and emails show people in Trudeau’s office knew the allegation was in regard to sexual misconduct. 

Opposition Deputy Leader Candice Bergen raised a question of privilege in the House of Commons on Wednesday, arguing that evidence contradicts Trudeau’s statements he didn’t know the nature of the complaint against Vance and has deliberately misled parliamentarians. 

“It’s outrageous to believe that everyone around Justin Trudeau was aware of these allegations, but the Prime Minister didn’t know,” reads a joint statement from Conservative MPs Leona Alleslev, Pierre Paul-Hus and defence critic James Bezan.

“If Justin Trudeau refuses to allow his chief of staff to testify or if the Liberals block her appearance at committee, it is just more evidence that the Liberals care more about their cover-up and protecting the military’s old boys club than protecting the women who serve our country in uniform.”

Walbourne has testified he told Sajjan the complaint related to “inappropriate sexual behaviour,” but Marques was more circumspect in his testimony last week about whether he and Telford knew about the nature of the complaint.

“I believe I was told that the issue was an issue of personal misconduct,” Marques told the Commons defence committee.

“I have to say, in the context of hearing that, that I think my presumption was certainly that it could be of a sexual nature, but I don’t think I was actually given that information specifically.”

Trudeau told the House of Commons on Wednesday that his government will have more to announce soon on “stronger measures” to support those serving in the military.

“We will be there to support, to listen to, and to provide resources to anyone who comes forward with sexual misconduct allegations,” Trudeau said in French. “We’ve taken concrete steps as a government over the years, but it’s clear, Mr. Speaker, that we have more to do.”

The defence committee is scheduled to meet again on Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press