By Jacques GallantPolitical Reporter
Thu., Nov. 25, 2021timer4 min. read
updateArticle was updated 30 mins ago
The federal government has fired Adm. Art McDonald as chief of the defence staff, replacing him with the officer who had been serving as the interim leader of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The appointment of Gen. Wayne Eyre, who has held the top job on an interim basis since February, was announced Thursday by the Prime Minister’s Office.
McDonald’s termination as chief was subsequently confirmed by Defence Minister Anita Anand.
McDonald stepped aside from the top job in February after military police began investigating an allegation against him of sexual misconduct.
In August, the military police said McDonald would not face any criminal or disciplinary charges as a result of the investigation. However, the government kept McDonald on leave pending a review.
That decision prompted McDonald to mount a public campaign to get his job back. He recently sent a letter expressing that desire to all senior military officers, a move that Anand described as “shocking” and “unacceptable” on Thursday.
“Today the Governor General has signed an order terminating Adm. McDonald in this position,” Anand told reporters in Ottawa.
“Gen. Eyre and I will continue to work hard in reforming the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
McDonald remains on paid leave from the military, but his lawyer, Rory Fowler, said that McDonald told Eyre on Thursday he intends to initiate the process of retiring from the forces.
Fowler said he first learned of Eyre’s appointment, and therefore McDonald’s removal, from a journalist who sent him the PMO press release. He said he then notified McDonald, who was then told of his termination by a Privy Council Office official.
“In fact, over the last nine months since he stepped aside, neither the prime minister, nor either minister of national defence, the former or the current, have had the courtesy to pick up the phone and speak to Adm. McDonald,” Fowler told the Star.
The order-in-council firing McDonald said he had lost the confidence of the government. The order took into account his letter and public statements made by him and on his behalf since August, as well as submissions made this month by McDonald on whether he should remain in the position.
The order noted that the chief has “an obligation to act in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.”
Eyre had previously served as commander of the army since 2019, and before that was involved in a number of military operations at home and abroad.
He now faces the monumental task of leading the Canadian Armed Forces as it responds to calls for a culture change amid an ongoing sexual misconduct crisis that has seen current and former senior military leaders under investigation or facing charges.
Retired general Jonathan Vance, who held the top job until his retirement in January, is facing a criminal charge of obstruction of justice as part of military police investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
Eyre’s tenure since February has not been without its missteps on the sexual misconduct file.
In June, it was revealed that then-vice chief of the defence staff Mike Rouleau and commander of the navy Craig Baines went on a golf trip with Vance. The outing was especially problematic as Vance was under investigation by military police, who report to the vice chief.
Rouleau, whose term was almost over, subsequently resigned amid public outrage. He told staff in a note that he met with senior officers under investigation with the “full knowledge and consent” of Eyre, though Eyre said he was unaware of the golf trip until it was made public.
Last month, it was revealed that the military had quietly appointed Maj.-Gen. Peter Dawe to a position helping to co-ordinate culture change efforts. Dawe had been on leave as head of special forces since May, after CBC News reported that he had written a positive character reference in 2017 at the sentencing of a soldier found guilty of sexual assault.
The news of his appointment prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say that military brass “simply still don’t get it” on sexual misconduct. Dawe was removed from the position.
Nevertheless, one expert on military sexual misconduct described Eyre as one of the best contenders for the permanent role of chief of the defence staff, and that his appointment will bring some much-needed stability.
Eyre’s “errors in judgment … it’s more symptomatic of larger problems within the general officer cohort,” said Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
“What we want is a chief of the defence staff who is open to learning, open to changing course, and Eyre has shown a certain openness to this kind of way of leading,” she said.
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