Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives for the first day of a Liberal cabinet retreat in Ottawa, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020. Lawmakers from all three main opposition parties are pressing for the prime minister's chief of staff, Katie Telford, to testify before the House of Commons defence committee. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Tories take aim at PM’s top aide over Vance allegations as Sajjan dodges questions

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives are taking aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top aide as they press the government over its handling of a sexual-misconduct complaint against general Jonathan Vance.

The Tories on Friday tabled a proposed motion calling for Trudeau to dismiss his chief of staff, Katie Telford, after another of the prime minister’s advisers suggested she knew about the allegation against Vance three years ago.

Trudeau defended Telford last week even as he told reporters and parliamentarians that no one in his office or Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office knew the allegation against Vance was of a sexual nature.

That appeared to contradict the testimony of then-military ombudsman Gary Walbourne, who first flagged the allegation to Sajjan in March 2018, as well as internal government documents suggesting officials in both offices did know.

Walbourne testified two months ago that he told Sajjan the complaint related to “inappropriate sexual behaviour.”

The Conservative motion is one of three that the party can choose to go to a vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday, and comes as the Commons’ defence committee prepares to resume debate over whether to call Telford to testify.

Liberal committee members talked out the clock Friday in a bid to stall opposition attempts to have Telford appear to answer questions.

The Tories, who regularly put several motions on notice but can only choose one, could also ask MPs to condemn Iran’s election to the UN status of women commission or criticize a bill that would let the government regulate social-media content.

While opposition parties have more seats in the House than the Liberals, meaning any could pass, such motions are symbolic and are not binding on the government.

Telford has served as Trudeau’s most senior staffer since forming government in 2015.

The prime minister lost his other most trusted adviser, Gerald Butts, after the latter resigned during the SNC Lavalin affair in February 2019.

Sajjan, meanwhile, sidestepped repeated questions about whether he knew the nature of the complaint against Vance as he appeared Sunday on different political talk shows on television.

“It does not matter what the complaint actually was, a complaint was brought forward about the chief of defence staff, and at that time what we needed to do was take immediate action so that could be looked into properly, and that was done,” he told CTV’s Question Period.

The minister also told Global News, which first reported on the allegation against Vance in February, that he “didn’t have much details on that.”

However, documents obtained by Global under access to information laws showed that on the same day his office asked civil servants to open a probe, bureaucrats were referring to “sexual harassment” in internal emails.

While the nature of the complaint reported by Walbourne has not been confirmed, Global News 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 has not responded to requests for comment from The Canadian Press, but Global has reported he denies any wrongdoing. He stepped down as chief of the defence staff in January and has since retired from the military.

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