Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says she was “surprised” and “disturbed” by the acting defence chief’s decision to allow Vice-Admiral Craig Baines to keep his position as head of the Royal Canadian Navy following a recent golf game with Gen. Jonathan Vance.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Freeland said she wouldn’t have felt reassured by the move if she were a woman in uniform.
“My immediate thought was, how would I feel if I were a Canadian woman in the Armed Forces and what would that decision tell me about how seriously my bosses were taking the essential work of transforming the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces,” she said.
“I don’t think if I were wearing a uniform today, I would be reassured by the decision.”
In a memo to Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members on Tuesday, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre said he has consulted widely about the golf game between Vance, Baines, and Lt.-Gen. Michael Rouleau that took place in Ottawa in early June, and while it’s clear it was done in poor judgement, he believes people “can grow.”
“I have considered the complex interplay of procedural fairness, proportionality, operational impact, and moral authority. As expected, there is no clear consensus, with the exception that we can turn this into a learning opportunity,” he said of Baines, adding that he understands not everyone will agree with the decision.
“For all, and especially senior leaders, there are some errors in judgment from which there is no recovery, but for other missteps or mistakes there must be. I have to believe that people can learn and grow, regardless of their generation, if we are to become better as an institution and as individuals.”
Rouleau, the military’s former second-in-command, announced his resignation on June 14 and is in the process of transitioning out of the CAF.
Military police launched an investigation into Vance in early February over reports of inappropriate behaviour, which he has denied. CTV News has not independently verified the allegations against him. Rouleau had, at the time, oversight authority over the police branch.
Baines has issued a public apology for his actions and Eyre said on Tuesday that the navy chief has reached out to stakeholders to gain their perspective on the path forward.
“Knowing his moral authority has diminished, he is determined to regain the trust and confidence of all through humility and showing us how to learn, reconcile error, and become a better leader,” he said in the statement.
Freeland added that it’s become very clear since the recent revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against several high-ranking officials that there is a “toxic” culture within the Forces.
“I think that people, and especially women want action, they want change and they deserve action and they deserve change,” she said.