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Senior military official steps aside months after start of sexual misconduct investigation

·3 min read
Lt.-Gen Steven Whelan has been with the Canadian military since 1990. (The Royal Canadian Regiment - image credit)
Lt.-Gen Steven Whelan has been with the Canadian military since 1990. (The Royal Canadian Regiment - image credit)

The Canadian Armed Forces' commander of military personnel is under investigation for sexual misconduct and has stepped aside from the role.

The military confirmed late Friday that Lt.-Gen. Steven Whelan is facing an allegation of sexual misconduct that has been under investigation since at least June 2.

He remained in the senior role for more than four months after acting chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan learned of the investigation.

The CAF said that Whelan "was not to be made aware of it due to possible impacts on the investigation," which in ongoing.

The Royal Canadian Regiment
The Royal Canadian Regiment

"Given recent developments, after discussing with the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff, LGen Whelan agrees he must step aside as the Commander, Military Personnel, effective immediately," the CAF statement continued.

The Globe and Mail first reported news of the investigation into Whelan.

The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS), the investigative branch of the military police, confirmed in a separate statement that it is investigating the allegation but said that no further information could be released.

"The Military Police do not, by practice, proactively disclose the existence of ongoing investigations. This is standard procedure amongst all police forces as disclosing if someone is being investigated could jeopardize the integrity of the investigation," the CFNIS said.

Whelan's predecessor as head of military personnel, Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson, was placed on indefinite leave with pay in March after CBC News reported about allegations of rape made against him by a former military member.

Edmundson denies the allegations.

Whelan has been with the military since 1990 and was appointed commander of military personnel in May 2021, according to his biography page with the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR). He also serves as chair of the senate at the RCR, which is the army's senior infantry regiment.

The military in crisis

The military is in the midst of an ongoing sexual misconduct crisis, and several senior leaders facing allegations have been put on leave with pay.

Canada's former top military commander, retired general Jonathan Vance, is charged with one count of obstruction of justice in relation to an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct that he denies.

His successor, Admiral Art McDonald, was placed on leave over an investigation into sexual misconduct claims that he denied and that didn't lead to criminal charges.

Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe, who once provided a character reference for a soldier being sentenced for sexual assault, was recently tapped for a key role in the military's response to sexual misconduct before his appointment was rescinded.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and senior government officials have pledged to conduct a thorough review of military culture following the recent misconduct scandals.

The allegations against numerous military leaders have also prompted calls for Sajjan's resignation.

A spokesperson for the defence minister said Sajjan was also unable to comment on the investigation.

"The minister requested that the complainant receive all necessary support," said Todd Lane.

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