National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance listen to a question during a news conference Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance listen to a question during a news conference Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Trudeau ducks questions on allegations against former defence chief

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says all Canadians deserve a safe workplace following allegations former defence chief Jonathan Vance engaged in inappropriate conduct.

But the prime minister did not directly address the allegations, or whether he ought to have known there were concerns about the country’s top soldier, pointing to an investigation the military has ordered into the matter.

Global News reported on Tuesday that Vance allegedly had an ongoing relationship with a woman he significantly outranked, and that he made a sexual comment to a second, much younger soldier in 2012, before he was appointed chief of the defence staff.

Vance has not responded to previous requests for comment by The Canadian Press and the allegations against him could not be independently verified.

Vance acknowledged he dated the first woman nearly 20 years ago, according to Global, but said the relationship had evolved over the years and was not sexual.

The former defence chief also said he had no recollection of making a sexual comment to the other junior member, adding if he did make the comment it would have been intended as a joke and that he was prepared to apologize.

On Thursday, the Department of National Defence said the military police have launched an investigation following the allegations, which is separate from an independent examination that has been ordered by top military officials.

When asked how much his office knew or ought to have known about the allegations, Trudeau pointed to the investigation ordered by current chief of defence staff Admiral Art McDonald.

Trudeau said any allegations around misconduct or harassment are taken seriously. He said that’s the why the government previously improved the mechanisms around how workplace complaints are handled.

The Liberal government has passed legislation and implemented rules over the last few years to address harassment in federally regulated workplaces and provide clear steps on combating it.

“It is extremely important to move forward on ensuring a safe work environment for everyone in this country and the government will continue to do everything we need,” he said at a news conference on Friday.

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