October 15, 2021
OTTAWA — Canada’s top military commander Admiral Art McDonald wants his job back, saying that he has “been exonerated,” and remains a “champion of culture change” within the Canadian Armed Forces.
McDonald is currently on leave as commander of the Canadian Armed Forces, but speaking to CTV National News’ Genevieve Beauchemin in an exclusive on-air interview about the misconduct allegation that sidelined his career, he makes his case for reinstatement.
“I have not done anything wrong,” McDonald said. “I’ve acted with integrity in response to allegations. I’ve been exonerated as a result of a rigorous and thorough investigation, and I’ve remained a real champion of culture change, I’m committed to it. And, I think that by advocating for my job what I am saying is simply that: Listen, we can’t have a system where allegations alone are sufficient for removing someone.”
The naval officer voluntarily stepped aside as chief of the defence staff in February, after a Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) initiated investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct made against him.
In August, the nearly six-month investigation ended with military police determining there was not enough evidence to lay charges against him.
Now, he wants to take back command from acting defence chief Gen. Wayne Eyre, despite the federal government putting him on administrative leave pending a decision about the position.
“Public office holders have an obligation to perform their official duties in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law,” said the Privy Council Office in a statement at the time.
Navy Lt. Heather Macdonald, a navy combat systems engineer, has come forward identifying herself as the complainant, though she has said little about the specifics of her complaint.
McDonald says he was was eventually told that her complaint was linked to an alleged incident aboard the HMCS Montreal in 2010.
“What was shared by minister’s chief of staff (is) that I pushed the commanding officer into the chest area of one of his crew members in this public space, in the presence of potential witnesses,” McDonald said.
He told CTV National News: “I did not do what was alleged or any version there of. I’ve committed no wrongdoing here whatsoever.”
McDonald is one of several senior officers in the Canadian military who have faced allegations and come under investigation in the last year, prompting a conversation about how seriously the military is pursuing its pledges to stamp out harassment and sexual misconduct within its ranks.
“Let’s, let’s be honest, we need to rebuild trust within the Canadian forces with women, with all subordinates, with subordinates and superiors and with the Canadian public,” he said.
“I absolutely believe I’m the right person to do that. I’m not guilty of what I was alleged to have done, I insisted on a rigorous investigation, did everything in my power to ensure that happened, and after it has been completed, it’s come back now and I want to continue with the work.”
McDonald said he salutes the courage of victims who come forward, but the military needs to conduct full investigations in these situations.
“We need to respect due process,” he said. “We’ve heard from all quarters through these series of allegations that due process needs to be respected or else you only have witch hunts.”
In September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that it “is obvious,” that military leadership “still don’t get it.”
In an interview on CTV News Channel’s Power Play, Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said that the example of McDonald speaks to an ongoing challenge the military is facing: What to do when someone is not charged, even though there has been an allegation made.
“I would disagree with his claims that he’s in a positon to go back to the role of chief of the defence staff for the simple reason that he was not exonerated. What the CFNIS was saying is that there was not enough evidence to charge him, which is completely different,” she said. “Second of all, as the top soldier in Canada, any doubt on his ability to lead culture change and doing it truthfully and in a genuine fashion is problematic,” she said.