After being asked why he did so many stupid things, actor Tom Hanks’ iconic character Forrest Gump said, "stupid is as stupid does." Those are words of wisdom that have apparently not yet registered among the senior ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces.
This week, the second-highest ranking officer in the CAF, Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, was forced to resign his post as vice-chief of the defence staff after it was learned he golfed with retired general Jonathan Vance, who is currently under investigation for sexual misconduct.
Once it was revealed he and Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, the commander of the Royal Navy, had golfed with Mr. Vance in Ottawa on June 2, Lt.-Gen. Rouleau stepped aside, acknowledging his actions "intensified recent events and contributed to further erosion of trust" in the Forces. Vice-Admiral Baines issued a statement of apology for sending "the wrong signal as to my commitment to lead in resolving our systemic cultural and misconduct issues." He has not resigned his post but is taking "a few days of personal leave."
To date, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has not taken direct action to deal with his senior officers. That should, and must, change soon.
The two senior officers who met with Mr. Vance have acknowledged their mistake, but that does not mitigate the damage this incident has done given the details of the allegations he is now facing.
In April, Maj. Kellie Brennan, an army staff officer, told a parliamentary committee Mr. Vance had fathered, but does not support, two of her three children. In justifying his clearly inappropriate relationship with a lower-ranking officer, Maj. Brennan said Mr. Vance bragged about being "untouchable" and how he had Minister Sajjan totally under his control.
Lt.-Gen. Rouleau, among his many duties, is the senior officer in charge of military police, who are directly involved in investigating the allegations made by Maj. Brennan, and from another woman who claimed she was sexually harassed by Mr. Vance in 2012.
The allegations against Mr. Vance have not yet been proven in a court and he has denied everything. Even so, it is not a stretch to say Vice-Admiral Baines, and more directly, Lt.-Gen. Rouleau, have perverted the course of justice in this matter. That not only raises questions about the Force’s ability to police and investigate itself, but also about whether their actions will force others with similar allegations to abandon all hope of justice.
Simply put, the actions by the two senior officers suggest they are more concerned about the welfare of Mr. Vance than they are of the victims of his alleged misconduct. In this context, that is a dereliction of leadership accountability.
As noted, the issue is now squarely in the court of Mr. Sajjan, who must make very difficult decisions about how to deal with two senior officers and somehow restore faith in all ranks of the military that Canada is doing everything it can to deal with what is clearly a rampant culture of misogyny.
Stupid may be as stupid does, but stupid must also come with consequences.