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General Vance ‘was not honest’ in 2015 over allegations of sexual misconduct, former Harper aide tells MPs

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Ray Novak said he was ‘confident’ Harper would cancel Vance’s appointment as head of defense if allegations of misconduct were verified

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OTTAWA Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper had limited information about allegations of sexual assault filed against former Defense Chief Jonathan Vance in 2015 and would have canceled his appointment as former general if any misconduct was verified. said a former senior adviser.

In a testimony to a House of Commons committee Monday, Ray Novak, who served as chief of staff at Harper between 2013 and 2015, said he was very confident the Conservatives would not have appointed General Vance if they were able to support claims that have recently surfaced.

Vance was not honest when Harper asked him directly at a meeting in March 2015 if the former general could be subjected to any allegations of misconduct during his long career, said Novak, who attended the meeting. Two specific allegations of misconduct that surfaced months later were investigated by federal governments National Security and Intelligence Advisor (NSA) but found no material evidence of misconduct, the former senior aide said.

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If either of those two issues would have provided additional facts, or frankly any additional questions or paths to be followed, I am very confident in saying that appointment would not have continued at that time.

Novaks’ testimony comes amid explosive allegations of sexual misconduct against Vance that have left the military institution in turmoil, raising questions about how many successive Conservative and Liberal governments knew about the allegations.

The affair in recent weeks has trapped Liberal Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, prompted by a series of Global News reports that Vance reportedly had an ongoing affair with Major Kellie Brennan, a woman he significantly exceeded.

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Novak said recent allegations suggest he was not next in his talks with Harper in 2015.

“I think it is clear that she made extremely serious allegations,” he told the committee. And if they are true and I have no reason to doubt it, it means that the general was not honest with the prime minister in their March 2015 meeting.

Sajjan has faced particularly harsh criticism, following a committee testimony earlier this month that said the defense minister was fully aware of the serious allegations against Vance in 2018, but went so far as to refuse to accept the evidence that was offered.

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Critics of the Liberal government say those actions run counter to the feminist mantra of prime ministers. Media reports, citing anonymous sources, have meanwhile questioned the strength of the 2015 Harper internal investigation.

Intensifying criticism of Sajjan and Trudeau, their newly-appointed defense chief Admiral Art McDonald, who replaced Vance, also resigned last month amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

In his testimony Monday, Novak said questions about Vance first surfaced in March 2015, after the NSA issued a routine announcement to the Office of the Prime Minister that the former general was engaged in a relationship with U.S. Officer Kerry Wheelehan. whom he would later marry, during a NATO deployment in Italy.

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Both the NSA and U.S. military investigators, Novak recalled, concluded that the relationship did not violate military protocol in part because Wheelehan, who was Vances’s fiancé at the time, did not work directly under his command.

The Harper government formally appointed Vance in April.

Months after the appointment, in early July, then-Veteran Affairs Minister’s chief of staff and current Conservative leader Erin OToole brought up a rumor that Vance had an inappropriate relationship with a junior officer. Around the same time, a senior officer in the Department of Homeland Security, headed by former Secretary of Defense Peter MacKay, received an anonymous email claiming an inappropriate relationship involving Vance, according to Novaks testimony.

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Both rumors were investigated by the NSA, a senior military-facing position within the Federal Government Private Council Office.

Novak appeared to regret the former general’s appointment given the latest allegations against him, but claimed that NSA investigations into both cases did not produce new information.

Undoubtedly, looking back on this six years later, we have a number of very disturbing claims that have been made, and when someone makes a meeting in a higher position like Chief of Defense Staff, Chief of the Canadian Armed Forces, one of the most historic and historic military institutions in the world, one expects that individual to maintain the proud record of this institution, he said. Unfortunately, that clearly was not the case.

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Vance is currently under investigation by military police, fueled by Brennans allegations first reported by Global News. The allegations suggest that the relationship between the two began when the two were stationed at CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick in the early 2000s, and then resumed when he was her superior in Toronto in 2006.

Global also reported that Vance allegedly made a sexual suggestion to a second, much younger soldier in 2012, before being appointed chief of defense staff.

Novak said he could not confirm whether Brennans’s allegations were the same as those investigated by the NSA years ago.

I do not remember hearing the big name Brennans until the last few weeks when she did the interview. That said, I can certainly not remember the name that was conveyed to us.

Novak also said he was absolutely struck by a recent Global Lt.-Col interview. Eleanor Taylor, a decorated officer who said she left the military because of the continuing atmosphere of sexism faced by female officers.

We potentially have a whole generation of young Canadian women who may have acquired their skills in the Canadian Armed Forces to defend our country, and now they can look elsewhere thanks to what is happening, Novak said.

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