A military in crisis: Here are the senior leaders embroiled in sexual misconduct cases
It’s a leadership crisis without precedent in the Canadian Armed Forces — a fact that only becomes clear when you take a step back and look at the full depth and scope of the sexual misconduct crisis and survey the wreckage in the top ranks.
Since early February 2021, 11 senior Canadian military leaders — current and former — have been sidelined, investigated or forced into retirement from some of the most powerful and prestigious posts in the defence establishment.
Experts say they can’t think of another military anywhere else in the world that has seen so many senior leaders swept up in scandal at the same time.
Some senior leaders are facing allegations of sexual misconduct and are under military police investigation. Two people have been charged criminally in connection to the claims. Some have launched public campaigns to fight for their jobs back.
In other cases, military leaders have been placed on leave over their own handling of sexual misconduct files that triggered public backlash and division in the ranks.
The investigations often came to light publicly only after journalists started asking questions of the Department of National Defence (DND).
DND says military police do not “proactively disclose the existence of ongoing investigations” because it could jeopardize the integrity of those investigations. Investigations are confirmed publicly on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the investigation, privacy rights and the public’s right to now, the department said.
What follows is a CBC News summary of all the senior leaders’ cases and what has been reported to date. The list will be updated with new developments as they emerge. The cases are listed in chronological order.
Retired general Jonathan Vance
Global News first reported in February that the former chief of defence staff, retired Gen. Jonathan Vance, was facing separate allegations of misconduct involving Maj. Kellie Brennan and another unidentified woman.
Military police were investigating whether his relationship with Brennan, a former subordinate, was inappropriate and contravened military regulations. Vance was also being investigated for allegedly sending a racy email in 2012 to another woman, who was a junior non-commissioned officer at the time.
Brennan gave explosive testimony before a parliamentary committee in April, telling MPs that Vance fathered but did not support two of her children. She alleged Vance told her that he was “untouchable” and that he “owned” the military.
Brennan claimed she gave military police recordings of phone conversations with Vance in which the retired general told her how to “perjure myself and to lie.” Vance said he could not comment on Brennan’s statements made at committee.
Vance was later charged with one count of obstruction of justice under the Criminal Code for “repeatedly contacting Mrs. KB by phone and attempting to persuade her to make false statements about their past relationship to the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service,” according to provincial court documents.
Vance denied the initial allegations when confronted by Global News. He declined comment when asked about the allegations by CBC News.
Two weeks have been set aside for his criminal trial. His case will be
back in an Ottawa courtroom
on Oct. 29 for pretrial matters.
Admiral Art McDonald
Vance’s successor as chief of the defence staff, Admiral Art McDonald, abruptly stepped aside from the top job on Feb. 25 after CBC News and the Ottawa Citizen received tips that he was being investigated by military police over an allegation of sexual misconduct.
The allegation involved a junior female crew member and an incident aboard the warship HMCS Montreal in 2010 during the military’s annual Arctic exercise known as Operation Nanook.
Global News later interviewed the complainant, Navy Lt. Heather McDonald, who said McDonald “shoved the face of the ship captain into her breasts after a button on her shirt popped open.”
McDonald denies any wrongdoing and is deep into a public campaign to fight for his old job back. His lawyers disclosed in August that after a five-month investigation, they learned military police would not be laying charges.
Lawyers for McDonald argued he was exonerated of any wrongdoing and he intended to return to his job — a version of events disputed by some legal experts. The Liberal government said he would remain suspended until the matter is “fully reviewed.”
McDonald gave interviews in October to selected media outlets and reporters who do not cover defence. Separately, he circulated a letter to senior military officers arguing he should take command.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan publicly pushed back, calling the letter inappropriate. In another rare move, military police released a statement saying that the lack of charges against McDonald does not mean the allegations are unfounded.
The position of chief of the defence staff is a governor-in-council appointment — meaning the prime minister can dismiss the chief at any time. The Privy Council Office said a decision has not yet been made about McDonald’s future.
Retired Lt.-Gen. Christopher Coates
Former lieutenant general (now retired) Christopher Coates — Canada’s former top commander at NORAD — was investigated by military police for several months over an alleged extramarital affair.
It was alleged that Coates had an affair with an American civilian while he was second-in-command at NORAD headquarters in Colorado. The Canadian Armed Forces considers relationships within the chain of the command to be off-limits.
Coates announced he planned to leave the military in March, weeks after the alleged affair became public. In a message to service members, he said the decision to depart was his alone and was made for personal reasons and in the best interests of the military.
DND told CBC News in March that Coates did not violate any rules because he reported the affair to American and Canadian officials and the civilian was not under his command. The department said Coates was separated at the time he entered into the relationship.
But CBC News later learned through an access to information request that an active investigation continued months after DND claimed Coates had broken no rules.
Commons committee asks whether military has sexist double-standard on fraternization
Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson
CBC News reported on March 9 that Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, the commander in charge of human resources for the military, was himself investigated over allegations of inappropriate behaviour with female subordinates in the late 1990s.
The allegations include claims of suggestive or unwelcome comments, sexual advances, predatory behaviour and inappropriate relationships with female subordinates under his command at the time, four sources said.
Multiple sources said Edmundson’s behaviour wasn’t taken seriously back then and his track record of avoiding consequences earned him a nickname — “Mulligan man” — suggesting he got a do-over.
The military put Edmundson on indefinite paid leave on March 31 after learning CBC News was about to release a story about an alleged rape case.
Former military member Stéphanie Viau said she was a 19-year-old steward in the navy when Edmundson, a superior and lieutenant commander in 1991, started exposing his genitals to her aboard a navy ship deployed to the Pacific Ocean for an exercise.
She said the misconduct escalated and Edmundson raped her onboard HMCS Provider in early November, 1991 while the ship was docked in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.
Edmundson denies the allegations.
The military later turned down Viau’s request to bring in RCMP officers on secondment to investigate her case — which goes against a key recommendation in retired Supreme Court justice Morris Fish’s report urging sweeping changes to the military’s judicial system.
DND said that since May 12, Edmundson has been posted as a supported member at the Transition Centre Ottawa. While many military members who go to the transition group end up leaving the military, some transition back in.
Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe
CBC News revealed on April 28 that Maj. Gen. Peter Dawe, commander of Canada’s Special Forces, gave a positive character reference to a criminal court for Maj. Jonathan Hamilton, a soldier found guilty of sexual assault, prior to his sentencing.
Hamilton had been found guilty on six criminal charges, including unlawfully entering a retired military couple’s home and sexually assaulting retired captain and logistics officer Annalise Schamuhn on two separate occasions. Hamilton was also found guilty of twice physically assaulting her husband, retired major Kevin Schamuhn.
Both Hamilton and Kevin Schamuhn were in Dawe’s chain of command.
Annalise and Kevin Schamuhn said they felt betrayed after Dawe gave the positive character reference. Kevin Schamuhn said he spoke to Dawe on the phone in 2017; he said Dawe told him he sent the letter to influence sentencing because he felt Hamilton was a good guy who had been through a lot.
Dawe later apologized for failing a member of his command and said that when he “approached the perpetrator in this case, I recognized empathy with his personal struggles and responded emotionally.” Dawe said it’s clear his actions were profoundly harmful to the victim and her spouse and vowed to “do better.”
In response to CBC’s story, Acting Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said he had confidence in Dawe’s ability to serve and that Dawe had accepted full responsibility for not taking the victim’s perspective into account. He announced on April 30 that Dawe would be moving into the job he was set to take after leaving his current command: director general of international security policy.
The move triggered anger and division in the ranks and Eyre was accused of protecting Dawe. Eyre later apologized on May 2 for how he handled Dawe’s case and placed him on paid leave.
Dawe remained on leave for five months. He quietly returned to work on Sept. 15 — reviewing, compiling and collating recommendations from external reviews of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Three days later, responding to a growing backlash, the military pulled Dawe from his new role. Vice Chief of the Defence Staff Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen apologized for not being more transparent about his return to work.
For now, Allen said, Dawe will be talking to sexual assault survivors about how he can “contribute to meaningful culture change” in the military.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin
Maj.-Gen Dany Fortin stepped down from his role as head of vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) on May 14 amid a military investigation into a sexual misconduct allegation.
The Department of National Defence issued a terse three-line statement saying Fortin was leaving his post and his future would be decided by the acting chief of the defence staff. The following week, Canada’s military police referred their investigation to Quebec prosecutors to decide if charges should be laid.
Quebec prosecutors charged Fortin on Aug. 17 with one count of sexual assault stemming from an alleged incident that took place sometime between Jan 1. and April 30, 1988, when he was a student at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean.
Fortin denies the allegation and said he and his family have been living through a “nightmare.” Fortin’s criminal case is scheduled to go to court on Nov 5.
Ahead of the criminal charge, Fortin publicly launched a legal battle in federal court in June to demand his job back, arguing politicians improperly meddled in his case. Gen. Eyre’s notebook described weeks of intense discussions over how to handle Fortin’s case.
The Federal Court of Canada told Fortin on Oct. 12 that the military grievance process is the appropriate avenue to address his claim and that he had not fully taken advantage of that mechanism.
Fortin was temporarily assigned to a position as senior adviser for Commander Canadian Joint Operations Command at headquarters in Ottawa. But Fortin’s lawyers argued in federal court that he is sitting at home and is not being assigned any work, which they say constitutes relief of performance of military duty.
Commander Danny Croucher
The navy temporarily removed Commander Danny Croucher as head of the training school at CFB Halifax in June 2020 during an investigation into allegations of inappropriate and hurtful comments said to be sexual in nature, according to multiple sources.
Sources said a subsequent investigation found wrongdoing on Croucher’s part. Sources said he was expected to receive a so-called “5-F” — an involuntary release from the military. Instead, multiple sources confirmed Croucher’s request for a voluntary release was granted, permitting him to land a civilian job at the very same base in June.
DND said Croucher was released from the Canadian Armed Forces in June and was employed that same month as a civilian.
Sajjan ordered a review of the rapid release of Croucher on Oct. 8 following a CBC News report. The review is to determine if the military broke its own rules or flouted the spirit of its regulations by signing off on Croucher’s request to voluntarily leave the navy before his case reached the discipline stage.
Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau
The military’s second-in-command, Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, resigned from his post on June 14 after Global News reported that he had played golf with Vance, who was under military police investigation for sexual misconduct. The public show of support took place before the former general was charged.
As vice-chief of the defence staff, Rouleau had authority over the military’s provost marshal. The provost marshal is in charge of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS), which is investigating allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Vance with female subordinates.
After media reported the case and there was a public backlash, Rouleau issued a statement and said he invited Vance to play golf “to ensure his wellness” and did not discuss anything related to ongoing investigations during their outing.
Rouleau left his job and transferred to the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group, a department that helps soldiers prepare for post-military life.
Vice-Admiral Craig Baines
Baines publicly apologized earlier in June and took personal leave after media outlets reported he also played golf with Vance while he was under investigation.
Baines’ initial apology upset some military sexual trauma survivors, who said it was a public show of support for Vance rather than for victims.
After two weeks of deliberations, Eyre decided Baines would continue to serve as the commander of the navy and was given the chance to “redeem himself.” Baines issued a second apology later, saying he “failed to recognize how this choice would affect victims, result in further erosion of trust, and affect the credibility of our institution.”
Military experts said keeping Baines in that role sent the wrong message to sexual assault survivors.
Lt.-Gen. Trevor Cadieu
CBC reported on Oct 13 that the military postponed the appointment of Lt.-Gen Trevor Cadieu as the next commander of the army because he is being investigated for misconduct. The Ottawa Citizen was first to report the investigation and said it’s related to claims of sexual misconduct.
Cadieu was set to be sworn in as the head of Canada’s army at a ceremony in September.
The military called off the event when it learned on Sept. 4 that its internal investigations department was looking into “historical allegations” against Cadieu.
Cadieu has denied any wrongdoing and said he voluntarily provided information to military police and is waiting to cooperate fully with their investigation.
Lt.-Gen. Steven Whelan
Lt. Gen. Steven Whelan stepped aside from his role as commander of military personnel on Oct. 15 in connection to an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct.
Whelan remained in his senior role for more than four months after Gen. Eyre and Sajjan learned of the investigation.
The CAF said that Whelan “was not to be made aware of it due to possible impacts on the investigation,” which is ongoing.
Whelan replaced Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, who was placed on indefinite leave with pay in March after CBC News reported on allegations of rape made against him by a former military member. Edmundson denies the allegations.