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Defence minister under fire for hiring assistant with past inappropriate relationship

Sajjan’s military aide was ordered suspended three years ago from the Vancouver Police Department
Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan takes part in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Several experts say Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has lost all credibility when it comes to tackling sexual misconduct in the ranks.

The comments follow a report from The Canadian Press that one of Sajjan’s military assistants was ordered suspended three years ago from the Vancouver Police Department for having had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.

Sajjan’s office says the two men served together as senior officers in the same army reserve unit, but that neither the minister nor his staff knew about Maj. Greg McCullough’s past and the military was responsible for hiring him to the position.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously defended Sajjan, who was already facing opposition calls to resign for his handling of sexual misconduct allegations involving senior commanders.

But Megan MacKenzie, an expert on military sexual misconduct at Simon Fraser University, says the latest revelation suggests the minister himself is part an “Old Boys network” where senior military officers protect each despite allegations of misconduct.

Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says Sajjan has lost all moral authority when it comes to leading the type of change that is needed to eliminate inappropriate and criminal sexual behaviour in the ranks.

CP reported Wednesday that an army reservist who was ordered suspended from the Vancouver Police Department for having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate has been working as a military assistant to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Sajjan’s office says the military was responsible for hiring Maj. Greg McCullough, and that neither the minister nor his staff knew about the complaint or disciplinary action taken against him while he was a sergeant in the Vancouver police.

“Neither the minister nor staff were aware of the complaints to the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner or the disciplinary actions taken by the Vancouver Police Department,” spokesman Daniel Minden said in a statement.

“We expect all members of the Canadian Armed Forces to uphold the highest standards of professional conduct. The hiring process for military assistants is done by the Canadian Armed Forces. We are looking into this matter further.”

Revelations about McCullough’s hiring come as Sajjan faces calls from the opposition to resign over his handling of sexual misconduct allegations involving the top brass, and concerns about an “Old Boys network” that protects senior officers from repercussions.

McCullough is a senior member of the same army reserve unit that Sajjan commanded before entering politics, the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) and both served on the Vancouver Police Department.

Asked about the relationship between the two, Minden said: “The minister did not work together with Maj. McCullough at the Vancouver Police Department. They had met each other while serving as reservists in the British Columbia Regiment.”

Minden referred questions about when McCullough was hired, why the position was created and the process followed to the Department of National Defence.

Sajjan currently has six military assistants, Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said in an email.

All are employees of the military and not political staff, but work closely with the minister’s office to provide a wide variety of support.

“This support includes, for instance, the facilitation of information flow between the CAF and the (defence minister), the provision of logistical support for travel and communications, the scheduling of military briefings and overall liaison services,” he said.

McCullough was hired in March 2020 on a two-year contract “to support (Sajjan) while he is in his home riding,” Le Bouthillier added. “The hiring was done as a Reserve Employment Opportunity, which is an advertised hiring process open to eligible members of the Reserve Force across Canada.”

Le Bouthillier did not say who asked for the position to be created, the military or the minister’s office.

Asked how often military assistants are hired outside Ottawa, Le Bouthillier said: “We have no formal record of such a situation.”

Reached by telephone on Wednesday, McCullough told The Canadian Press that he works for the military in his current position and not for Sajjan. He also said the minister was not involved in hiring him.

“Minister Sajjan had nothing to do with my hiring process,” he said.

“He required a military assistant on the West Coast because of the amount of time that he spends here, and that’s it. I didn’t speak with Minister Sajjan about this process, and I serve the Canadian Armed Forces.”

McCullough repeated the same answer when asked about his relationship with Sajjan.

Media reports last year say McCullough was given a 15-day suspension in 2018 following an external investigation that found he failed to disclose a relationship with Const. Nicole Chan, and entered into the relationship despite knowing she was in a vulnerable state.

The 2018-19 OPCC annual report does not name McCullough, but did call for a five-day suspension for a police officer who “was in a personal, intimate relationship with a police officer who was under his direct supervision” and “failed to disclose this relationship with his supervisor.”

The OPCC also called for 10-day suspension for the same officer for having “entered into the relationship with another police officer with the knowledge that the police officer was in a vulnerable state, mentally and emotionally.”

The commission said the suspensions could be served concurrently.

It went on to note the first officer had since retired and “co-operated fully in the investigation and participated in all relevant processes. The police officer sought professional help in understanding his actions and wrote an apology to the other police officer.”

McCullough retired from the Vancouver police in 2018, according to media reports.

Chan, who also had a relationship with another superior officer who was later fired from the Vancouver police, took her own life in January 2019.

The Vancouver Police Department did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication Wednesday.

McCullough said by text message that he disputed some of the previous media reporting surrounding what happened, though he did not provide specifics, and added: “I do not dispute the (OPCC’s) finding, it is a matter of record.”

“I was a proud member of the VPD and continue to serve this country in the military.”

—The Canadian Press

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