Jonathan Vance Pleads Guilty to Obstruction of Justice

The investigation that led to charges against Jonathan Vance, a former chief of Canada’s defense staff, is one of several that have ensnared current and former Canadian military commanders.

OTTAWA — Canada’s former top military commander pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice on Wednesday in connection with a military police investigation into allegations that he engaged in sexual misconduct while leading the country’s military.

Jonathan Vance, the former chief of the defense staff, is one of several current and former Canadian military commanders under investigation for sexual impropriety. The growing scandal has undermined public confidence in Canada’s military.

“This is as low as it gets,” said Michel Drapeau, a former Canadian military officer who now teaches law at the University of Ottawa. “It raised serious apprehension as to how did this guy go so far and stay in position for five years given what we’ve come to know.”

Mr. Vance, 58, became the first former or current top military commander ever to face criminal charges last year when military police made the obstruction charge which, in an unusual move, was referred to the civilian justice system for prosecution. Several military law experts said that it is not possible to prosecute current or former chiefs of the defense staff under the military system.

It is unclear when the military police began investigating Mr. Vance. But the obstruction of justice charge involved events in February, 2021, a month after the general retired as long planned.

In court documents, the military police charged that Mr. Vance, a retired general, “willfully” attempted to obstruct justice when he repeatedly telephoned Maj. Kellie Brennan and attempted to to persuade her to give false statements to investigators. Major Brennan has identified herself in media interviews and before parliament as one of the people who made complaints against Mr. Vance. She testified before a parliamentary committee that Mr. Vance is the father of two of her eight children.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Anita Anand as defense minister late last year, he made one of her top priorities dealing with the expanding list of elite military officers facing sexual misconduct allegations.

Mr. Vance’s immediate successor as chief of the defense staff, Adm. Art McDonald, went on leave last year when he became the subject of a separate misconduct inquiry. In August, after the military police said it was not bringing any criminal or disciplinary charges against the admiral, the government began its own review. Ms. Anand announced in late November that he had been fired.

Two independent reviews have found that the Canadian military is rife with sexual harassment. And in 2019 the government set aside about $690 million to settle claims of sexual harassment and misconduct within its military that were brought in five class-action lawsuits.

Many current and former senior Canadian military leaders facing sexual misconduct allegations have been investigated, suspended, charged under criminal laws or retired early. They include Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, the military’s former head of human resources, who was charged in December with sexual assault and committing indecent acts. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr. Drapeau, who also represents military sexual assault victims, said that the situation is making it difficult for the military to recruit and retain members. It also, he added, should lead to a review of how senior officers are appointed, a process over which currently the civilian government has little control.

‘We’ve allowed the system, over decades, to produce this sort of results,” Mr. Drapeau said. “Just the sheer number of general officers who have been seeing it across here is cause for concern.”

He said that because Canada’s military code of conduct, unlike those of many other countries including the United States, does not ban consenting relations between senior and lower-ranked officers, he does not anticipate that Mr. Vance will face any charges directly related to sexual misconduct. But, he said, it is possible that Mr. Vance, who led Canada’s forces in Afghanistan, may be stripped of his military honors.

After Mr. Vance entered a guilty plea before the Ontario Court of Justice, he was granted a conditional discharge which will spare him a criminal record on those charges. He was sentenced to 12 months probation and 80 hours of community service.

The court also ordered him not to have any contact with Major Brennan outside of family law proceedings related to one of the children he fathered with her.

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