OTTAWA — Military police have laid criminal charges against the Canadian Armed Forces’ former head of human resources despite the Liberal government having said it would transfer the investigation and prosecution of sexual misconduct cases to civilian authorities.
The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service announced on Tuesday that Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson has been charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of indecent acts.
The charges come just over a month after Defence Minister Anita Anand announced she had accepted retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour’s call to have criminal cases involving sexual misconduct transferred from military to civilian jurisdiction.
In announcing the charges by military police, however, the CFNIS noted that Arbour left open the door to leaving investigations in the hands of military police if they are near completion.
“In this particular case, the investigation was near completion,” the military investigation service said in a statement, adding the case will be handled by civilian courts rather than the military justice system.
Edmundson stepped down as head of military personnel command in March due to a police investigation after a CBC report of an alleged sexual assault in 1991. His lawyer, Brian Greenspan, denied the allegations on Tuesday.
“Vice-Admiral Edmundson continues to deny any suggestion of criminal misconduct and looks forward to the opportunity to restore his distinguished reputation for service to our country,” Greenspan said in a statement.
The CBC has reported the allegation against Edmundson was brought forward by a retired Canadian Forces member. Her lawyer, Paul Champ, declined to comment “other than to say we will wait for justice to take its course.”
The Armed Forces has been battered for months with reports and headlines about inappropriate sexual behaviour involving senior commanders, which has left the military reeling and its top ranks in turmoil.
After Edmundson stepped down, he was replaced in May by Lt.-Gen. Steven Whelan as head of military personnel command, which has oversight over everything from recruitment and training to promotions and health care.
Whelan stepped aside in October due to a military police investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct. He has also denied any wrongdoing.
The Canadian Press was the first to report last month that Arbour had written a letter to Anand's predecessor, Harjit Sajjan, in October month calling for civilian authorities to handle criminal cases involving sexual misconduct in the military.
The government tapped Arbour in April to lead a yearlong review of sexual misconduct in the ranks and recommend ways to address it. The move followed months of allegations against top officers, and criticism of the Liberals' handling of the issue.
In her letter to Sajjan, who is now minister of international development, Arbour said those allegations and others “have led me to conclude that immediate remedial actions are necessary to start restoring trust in the CAF.”
To that end, she recommended all criminal cases of a sexual nature, including historical cases, be referred to civilian authorities. That includes cases currently under investigation, unless that investigation is nearly complete.
Arbour's recommendation only deals with criminal cases, including sexual assaults. It does not apply to non-criminal cases such as inappropriate relationships, which are not allowed in the military and will continue to be dealt with as a disciplinary issue.
She also left open the door to changing the recommendation pending the results of her final report.
Shortly after the Canadian Press report, Anand took to Twitter to announce she had accepted “in full Madame Arbour's recommendations to move the investigation and prosecution of sexual misconduct cases to the civilian system."
Officials have since said the military’s top police officer and prosecutor are in discussions with provincial and territorial counterparts to facilitate that transfer.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2021.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press