The acting defence chief says he’s giving Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, head of the Royal Canadian Navy, the opportunity to redeem himself following a recent golf game with Gen. Jonathan Vance.
In a notice to Canadian Armed Forces members, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre said he has consulted widely about the golf game 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, adding that he understands not everyone will agree with the decision.
On June 14, Lt.-Gen. Michael Rouleau, the military’s former second-in-command, who was also present for the round, announced his resignation 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.
Eyre said it’s important to recognize the harm the golf game has caused to survivors of sexual misconduct and abuse and the institution at large, as the CAF faces a series of high-profile resignations.
“We have been asking ourselves how such an otherwise well-respected, well-trained, and experienced leader can make such a blunder. It comes down to the blind spots that many of us possess, of not intuitively understanding the impact of our actions, however well-intentioned we think they are, on victims,” he said.
“To his credit, Vice-Admiral Baines sincerely and readily admitted his error in judgment and publically apologized. He has reached out to many stakeholders to seek their views on his way ahead. 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.”
When the news of the golf round was brought to light, a spokesperson for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the decision by Rouleau and Baines was “troubling and unacceptable” and that the minister would be discussing next steps with Eyre.
Survivor advocates at the time said trust in senior ranks had eroded, with the golfing incident casting further doubt.
“It demonstrates the old boys club is still alive and well, and I question whether they are really committed to culture change and due process,” Lori Buchart, volunteer with It’s Not Just 700, told CTV News.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland also condemned it.
“I absolutely understand and sympathize with the sentiment that men and women, but maybe especially women serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, have having seen this, and the concern that it causes them to have about the possibility of real fairness for them,” Freeland said.
Since then, there have been calls for Trudeau to fire Sajjan over his handling of the allegation against Vance – first reported to him in March 2018 — and what opposition MPs say is inaction to tackle sexual misconduct in the Forces.
Numerous studies have recommended an independent reporting system for victims, one that’s outside of the chain of command.
Eyre has previously acknowledged this need and in his internal memo said ensuring a “safe and respectful” culture remains a priority.
“We need a more inclusive and empathetic CAF, one that better reflects Canada and what our country stands for, a CAF that will emerge stronger and ever ready to answer the call,” he said.