OTTAWA — Gen. Wayne Eyre officially shed the word “acting” from his title on Thursday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the army officer has been made the permanent commander of Canada’s Armed Forces.
The long-anticipated announcement came nine months after Eyre took over from Admiral Art McDonald, who voluntarily stepped down as chief of the defence staff in February while military police investigated an allegation of sexual misconduct.
"Gen. Eyre will continue working hard to build and oversee cultural change in the Canadian Armed Forces, and to gain trust and confidence of survivors of sexual misconduct," Trudeau said in a statement.
"I know he will keep leading our Armed Forces with distinction and professionalism as they continue to protect Canadians and their values at home and abroad.”
While McDonald had publicly pressed for reinstatement into the position after the investigation resulted in no charges, one of his lawyers told The Canadian Press on Thursday that he has started the process to voluntarily retire from the military.
That includes reaching out to Eyre and the relevant section responsible for processing departures from the military.
However, lawyer Rory Fowler would not comment when asked whether McDonald was considering legal action, including a potential lawsuit.
“I can guarantee it's not the end of the issue,” Fowler said. “The manner in which we respond is still to be determined.”
Cabinet ministers had put McDonald on administrative leave in August. Defence Minister Anita Anand said during a news conference that while the former Royal Canadian Navy commander was no longer defence chief, he was still on leave.
Anand, who took over as defence minister last month after her predecessor Harjit Sajjan was criticized for not doing more to address sexual misconduct in the ranks, did not respond when asked if the government anticipated legal action from McDonald.
“This is an appointment, an at-pleasure appointment that the prime minister makes,” she said. “And I am very much looking forward to working with … Gen. Wayne Eyre, and that's all I have to say.”
McDonald had repeatedly asserted that the decision by military police not to lay any charges represented a complete exoneration, and that the principles of due process demanded his reinstatement.
But the Liberal government faced calls not to reinstate McDonald, with some experts and victims' advocates questioning the veracity of the investigation given it was conducted by military police rather than civilian authorities.
Anand has since said the government is looking at transferring the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults and other criminal cases to civilian authorities, as was recommended by retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour.
The government has repeatedly taken issue with a letter McDonald sent to other senior officers last month in which he laid out the reasons why he believed he should be reinstated. Anand on Thursday described it as “shocking” and “unacceptable.”
Fowler, who said his client was only defending himself, said McDonald only learned of his removal as chief of the defence staff from the government after the Prime Minister’s Office publicly announced the decision to the media.
“This perpetuates the same lack of respect for the admiral’s 36 years of honourable and faithful service to Canada, Canadians, and the Canadian Forces,” Fowler said.
“At no point, throughout the past nine months, has the prime minister or either the former or current minister of national defence demonstrated the courtesy of speaking with Admiral McDonald personally.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press