The commander in charge of human resources for the Canadian Forces was himself investigated over allegations of inappropriate behaviour with female subordinates in the late 1990s, CBC News has learned.
Despite that, former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance promoted Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson in 2019 to manage military personnel command, which gives him authority over career consequences for military members found to have engaged in sexual misconduct, multiple sources said.
The claims against Edmundson date back more than two decades to when he was a lieutenant-commander overseeing training at the naval officer training centre in Esquimalt, B.C.
The Department of National Defence said Edmundson was never charged or subjected to any type of administrative discipline. The department said it investigates all such claims and responds with penalties or charges where warranted.
But four sources with knowledge of the allegations describe an alleged pattern of behaviour by Edmundson aimed at female instructors and students under his command at the time. The allegations include claims of suggestive or unwelcome comments, sexual advances, predatory behaviour and inappropriate relationships with female subordinates, the sources said.
Multiple sources said Edmundson’s behaviour wasn’t taken seriously back then and said his track record of avoiding consequences earned him a nickname — “Mulligan man” — suggesting he got a do-over.
Sources with direct knowledge of the alleged incidents say the investigation of the allegations against Edmundson was flawed and claim that not all witnesses and complainants were interviewed.
A source with knowledge of the military police probe said that after military police looked into the matter, a rear admiral apologized to Edmundson for how he was treated by his chain of command during the investigation.
CBC News spoke to four other sources with knowledge of the allegations involving Edmundson. Fearing career reprisals, they asked not to be named.
Still more work to do: Vandenbeld
The sources said it was “ironic” and “cringeworthy” that someone accused of inappropriate behaviour was put in charge of the directorate that provides advice on administering career consequences for those accused of sexual misconduct.
CBC News has asked Edmundson to comment multiple times since Sunday; he has not responded. The Department of National Defence said in a written statement that it has a “strong and independent policing and judicial system, which thoroughly and completely investigates all such allegations.”
A spokesperson for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the minister “was made aware yesterday of the allegations from the [1990s].”
“He has asked the acting Chief of the Defence Staff to look into this matter and report back as soon as possible,” said spokesperson Todd Lane in an email to CBC News.
Anita Vandenbeld, parliamentary secretary to the minister of National Defence, told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics today that while her government has tried to root out sexual misconduct in the military, it still has more work to do.
“We’ve worked for a number of years and put a number of measures in place but obviously it’s not enough, and obviously we need to do more and that’s where we are focused,” she said.
Vandenbeld did not say Edmundson would be removed from his post while the allegations are being investigated — the Forces “need to make sure that there is due process for people,” she said.
“If anybody is found that they were actually either looking the other way or not acting on anything like this, if people are found to have done that, if people are found to have committed sexual misconduct, obviously, if that is the case … people should not be holding positions if they are guilty of these offences,” she told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.
Former warrant officer Krista Ley left the military in 2016. She said she was harassed for being gay, beaten and sexually assaulted at CFB Gagetown, where she was the only woman on a sergeant’s course at the time. She claims the complaint process is “full of conflicts of interest” that can come with threats, loss of promotions and “terrible” treatment.
Ley, who is taking part in a class action lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct in CAF, said it “looks terrible” that Edmundson is in charge of human resources after being investigated in the past.
“I’m not surprised,” said Ley. “It makes me angry for sure.
“We’re only at stage one of where we’re supposed to be … The military is an old boys club apt to protect each other.”
Dawn McIlmoyle formally left the Canadian Forces in September 1993 after she said a male colleague raped her.
She said she questions how thoroughly the military investigated misconduct claims before Operation Honour — the Canadian Forces campaign against sexual misconduct in the ranks — was launched in 2015. She said Edmundson’s continued service in his current role is disheartening.
“The trust has been broken,” she said. “It doesn’t look good.
“I just think it devalues anyone that’s ever came forward with a complaint. How many of us didn’t get heard?”
Edmundson reports directly to the chief of defence staff. Gen. Vance and his replacement, Admiral Art McDonald, are both now under investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, an arm of the military police.
As first reported by Global News more than a month ago, Vance is facing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with two female subordinates. After six weeks on the job as Vance’s replacement, McDonald abruptly stepped aside over a sexual misconduct investigation into allegations involving a crew member aboard a warship a decade ago.
A House of Commons committee is also probing what the Liberal government knew and when about the allegations against Vance and McDonald. Global News reported Sunday a senior naval officer who reported a claim about McDonald has received anonymous phone threats.
A ‘crisis of leadership’
Acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre said aspects of Canada’s military culture “need, must and will change.” This morning, the Department of National Defence announced the first-ever appointment of a woman — Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen — as vice chief of the defence staff, suggesting a shakeup in the senior ranks could be on the way.
In Edmundson’s case, multiple sources said complaints were filed around 1997 at the unit level in connection to his alleged pattern of behaviour with subordinates.
The sources claim Edmundson made comments about female subordinates’ appearances and made sexual advances that in some instances were unwanted. There are also claims that Edmundson dated subordinates in his chain of command in possible violation of good order and discipline under the National Defence Act.
Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, an expert in military law, said these latest allegations will deal another blow to serving members’ confidence in senior leadership.
“It is catastrophic,” said Drapeau. “My reaction is just shock. It’s devastating news for all those serving members … It’s a crisis of leadership. It’s a crisis of credibility in high command.
“The successive allegations made against the highest ranking members of the military — there is a dark cloud over the entire military profession.”
DND says it can’t comment further without charges
At the time, Edmundson would have been in charge of about 100 students starting their careers in the navy, as well as a smaller group of instructors undergoing the fiercely competitive Maritime Surface and Subsurface (MARS) training, said the sources. The training program is filled with many young students learning how to become ship’s captains and involves classroom exercises and a period at sea around the Gulf Islands in B.C.
Edmundson stepped away from his training role for a period of time while the investigation was underway, but later returned after he was cleared, according to several sources.
The Department of National Defence said in a statement that commenting further “on cases for which no charges were laid would be both inappropriate and irresponsible, as it would impact an individuals’ right to dignity and equality.”
The department said the military takes “such matters extremely seriously and always ensures that due process is afforded to all members.”
“As such, when allegations are founded, individuals are dealt with through administrative measures, or if serious enough, charged – either criminally or under the Code of Service Discipline,” said DND in a statement.
“When a member is charged with an offence of any kind, we proactively disclose all available information and make it available on the public record.”
CBC News requested a copy of the investigation report but DND said it’s standard practice among all police forces to “not confirm or deny the existence of investigations past or present,” due to privacy laws that protect the rights of the individuals involved.
Edmundson in charge of directorate dealing with personnel files
Edmundson rose up the ranks over the years and is now a high-ranking officer in command of Military Personnel Command. That gives him responsibility for the Director Military Careers Administration (DMCA), the CAF directorate that handles personnel files for military members facing accusations of code of service violations, remedial measures, career reviews or release from the military for misconduct — including sexual misconduct.
Edmundson also has been tasked with overseeing policies to make the workplace more welcoming for members who have faced harmful and inappropriate sexual behaviour. In July 2020, he made changes to the military’s policy on hateful conduct. He has also told the Canadian Press that the military needs to recruit more women to bring about true culture change.
The military’s campaign against sexual misconduct, known as Operation Honour, launched six years ago in response to an independent report by former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps. Her scathing conclusions took the military to task over its hyper-masculine environment and an “underlying sexualized culture” which sees leaders overlook misconduct.
During a Commons defence committee hearing into the allegations against Vance last month, Deschamps told MPs that she is disappointed with how Operation Honour has been implemented. She said CAF should redouble its efforts to rebuild its credibility.
Opposition parties grilled Sajjan Monday during question period about his handling of the allegations involving Vance. Conservative MP Candice Bergen accused Sajjan of turning a blind eye.
“Any allegations that were ever brought forward were immediately put forward to the proper authorities,” said Sajjan.
Sajjan doubled down on his message and said he looks forward to speaking to the committee again.
He later said “no politician should ever be part of an investigation.”
“It should always be done independently and that’s why immediately … these allegations were brought forward to the Privy Council office, so that an independent investigation could be conducted.”