The Department of National Defence says military police have launched an investigation following allegations former defence chief Jonathan Vance engaged in inappropriate conduct.
Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier says the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service investigation is separate from an independent examination that has been ordered by top military officials.
Global News reported on Tuesday that Vance allegedly had an ongoing relationship with a woman he significantly outranked, and that he made a sexual comment to a second, much younger soldier in 2012, before he was appointed chief of the defence staff.
Vance could not be reached for comment on Thursday and the allegations against him could not be independently verified.
Vance acknowledged he dated the first woman nearly 20 years ago, according to Global, but said the relationship had evolved over the years and was not sexual.
The former defence chief also said he had no recollection of making a sexual comment to the other junior member, adding if he did make the comment it would have been intended as a joke and that he was prepared to apologize.
The allegations against Vance come less than a month after he turned over command of the Canadian Armed Forces to Admiral Art McDonald following more than five years in the position.
“We can confirm the CFNIS is investigating this matter,” Le Bouthillier said in a statement on Thursday, without providing further details.
“In order to preserve the integrity of the investigative process, no additional information can be provided at this time.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan faced questions in the House of Commons on Thursday about whether he was aware of the allegations against Vance, who took over as Canada’s defence chief in July 2015.
Sajjan said he has “always ensured that any allegations that were brought to my attention had been reported to the appropriate authorities to begin an investigation, regardless of rank or position.
“I have always followed all of the appropriate processes in pursuing issues related to workplace harassment whenever allegations have arisen.”
Sajjan repeated that assertion in a statement provided to The Canadian Press.
“We will ensure a full thorough independent investigation is conducted,” he added. “However, the specifics around any such review have yet to be determined.”
The official Opposition Conservatives have nonetheless called for an emergency meeting of the Commons defence committee to probe what Sajjan knew, and when.
McDonald and Defence Department deputy minister Jody Thomas on Tuesday described the allegations as troubling, but have not said whether they have been substantiated.
McDonald subsequently sent a message to all Armed Forces members on Wednesday, describing the allegations against Vance as “distressing and hurtful for all of us to contemplate.”
He went on to describe those who had come forward to make the allegations as having done so “courageously,” and promised that they would not face any repercussions.