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Privy Council Office was warned to 'put some things in writing' after 2018 Vance complaint

   March 6, 2021 12:53 AM
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by Amanda Connolly

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Privy Council Office
 
Just one day after the ex-military ombudsman brought an allegation of inappropriate behaviour by Gen. Jonathan Vance to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, someone emailed the Privy Council Office about the need to "put some things in writing."

Documents obtained by Global News under access to information laws show that someone emailed Janine Sherman, a senior personnel official at the Privy Council Office, at 2:14 PM on March 2, 2018, with the subject line "investigation."

"I just tried but you are well-guarded," the person wrote in a chain about lining up a time to speak.

"We will need to put some things in writing today."

The documents come after a month of questions and committee hearings delving into allegations first reported exclusively by Global News on Feb. 2 that Vance behaved inappropriately towards two female subordinates, one of whom shared their complaint informally with the military ombudsman in 2018.

While it is not clear from the document who sent the March 2 email, minister's offices and the Prime Minister's Office are exempt from ATIP laws. As a consequence, the names of staffers in those offices are frequently — but sometimes inconsistently — redacted in ATIP releases.

The individual also references needing to "lock up my phone" in their emails, something typically done by government staff participating in high-level or security-restricted meetings, including cabinet or caucus meetings.

Within hours, staff from Sajjan's office had drafted a letter to Gary Walbourne emphasizing that Sajjan knew nothing about the detail of the allegations — which Walbourne said in explosive testimony before the House of Commons defence committee on Wednesday that Sajjan refused to look at.

"On behalf of the Minister, I am writing further to your discussion concerning allegations of sexual harassment that had been brought to your attention," reads a letter sent at 7:40 PM on March 2 from a redacted account on letterhead with Sajjan's signature.

"Although the substance and details of the allegations were not discussed the Minister we [sic] want to ensure that they are properly investigated," the letter continues before asking Walbourne to share the details of the complaint with the Privy Council Office.

PCO officials asked Walbourne on March 5 and 6 for information about the complainant, which he warned them he could not provide without her okay.

"As with all cases given to the Ombudsman's office we only move forward with the complainant's written consent to do so," Walbourne said in one of his responses on March 6.

"Options have been proposed I now await directions as to their wishes on how to move forward. Once they have made a decision, and with their permission, I will engage as directed."

On March 8, PCO officials said they had not heard back from Walbourne with any more information and on March 12, Walbourne's office reached out asking to set up a meeting with Sherman.

Walbourne has said the complainant did not give that permission but expects it would have been granted had she felt officials were taking the matter seriously.

All the while, PCO officials were preparing a briefing note acknowledging that the ombudsman was not responsible for investigating allegations of sexual misconduct.

The documents come after a week that saw Sajjan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau facing accusations of a "cover-up" from Conservatives over their handling of the allegations.

In the wake of Global News' Feb. 2 reporting, military police opened an investigation into Vance and the House of Commons defence committee launched its own probe of the matter as well.

Sajjan testified to the committee two weeks ago that he was "surprised" to learn of the allegations against Vance in the Global News report, and insisted he has always followed proper procedures when any complaints are brought to his office.

But Walbourne offered a starkly different picture of events in his testimony on Wednesday.

The ex-military watchdog confirmed that he raised an allegation with Sajjan during a March 1, 2018, meeting and then tried to show Sajjan evidence he had brought that he said would have proved the merit of the allegation.

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