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Former head of military HR sues Armed Forces, government after misconduct case

Written by on May 22, 2024

OTTAWA — A former military leader who was accused of sexual misconduct in 2021 is suing the federal government, the Armed Forces and his accuser, claiming he was maliciously prosecuted for political reasons.

Lt.-Gen. Steven Whelan filed a statement of claim in Federal Court asking for damages and a public apology.

The claim says the military and Defence Department should apologize for the “abuse of office, negligent investigation, malicious prosecution and involvement in the media leaks that destroyed his reputation and career.”

The lawsuit names defendants, including defence chief Gen. Wayne Eyre and vice-chief Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen; Jody Thomas, the former deputy minister of defence; Lt.-Gen. Jennie Carignan, the military’s chief of professional conduct and culture; the Canadian Forces Provost Marshal; the director of military prosecutions and the investigative arm of the military police.

Whelan’s claim also names his accuser, saying she misrepresented facts and defamed him. And it says the Prime Minister’s Office and Privy Council Office were acting in response to public and political pressure.

“Individuals with inappropriate motives influenced the military justice system, military police processes, and career administration processes. The resulting chaos reflects a military that is still unwilling to free itself from improper political influence,” the claim said.

The allegations in the statement of claim have not been tested in court.

Whelan was accused in late 2021 of having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. He was put on leave from his role as head of the military’s personnel during an investigation.

After civilian police found no grounds to lay criminal charges, the military charged him with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline.

The case went to a court martial last fall, and military prosecutors eventually dropped both charges.

At the time of Whelan’s accusation, the Armed Forces was embroiled in controversy after several high-ranking leaders were publicly accused of sexual misconduct.

The controversy led to an external review by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, who called for sweeping changes to the military’s culture and the way it deals with sexual misconduct cases.

Some military leaders were criminally charged.

That included former vice-admiral Haydn Edmundson, whom Whelan replaced as head of military personnel.

Edmundson was charged with sexually assaulting a junior navy member in 1991. The case went to trial earlier this year and a verdict is expected in July.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin was removed as head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout campaign in May 2021 while he was under investigation for an allegation dating back to 1988.

He was charged with one count of sexual assault in August 2021 and was later acquitted after a trial in the civilian Quebec Superior Court. The Armed Forces cleared him of wrongdoing the next month.

Fortin filed a lawsuit in March 2023 against 16 high-ranking officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Eyre and the Liberal cabinet ministers who held the defence and health portfolios at the time of the accusation.

He reached an undisclosed settlement with the government last October.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2024.

The Canadian Press