DND News

VCDS resigns after disregarding optics

Lieutenant-General Mike Rouleau, whose position as the Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff includes authority over the Military Police, submitted his resignation Monday following criticism over his decision to go golfing with former Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance who is under military police investigation for misconduct.

Also in the group was Vice-Admiral Craig Baines, who has been Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy for just over one month.

While the decision to meet up on the weekend for a friendly game at the Hylands Golf Club was personal, and Rouleau asserts that at no time was there any discussion of the case against Vance, the optics are undeniably bad. It is reasonable to expect a more thorough level of judgement from the second in command of the Canadian Armed Forces, particularly when the CAF is in the midst of reviewing recommendations from the latest report on sexual misconduct within its ranks.

LGen Rouleau’s decision sent “entirely the wrong message to the entire country,” said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland as the country questions the level of commitment from CAF leadership on the role of taking sexual misconduct seriously.

Although General Vance is under investigation, he denies the allegations. According to law, he is presumed innocent until proven otherwise – a right that was not accorded to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman when he was removed from his position as VCDS by General Vance amid unsubstantiated claims of sharing information to an industry source. All charges against VAdm Norman were eventually dropped for lack of evidence, but the damage to reputation was already done.

According to Rouleau, he and the new commander of the Navy were doing a wellness check on the former CDS. “I understand how such an activity could lead some to perceive a potential conflict of interest and controversy, given the current context, but nothing can be further from the truth,” said Rouleau in a statement. His judgement was incredibly short-sighted, but is it enough to ruin a career?

Rouleau took full responsibility for Baines joining in. In a statement after the activity was reported by Global News and the Globe and Mail, Baines also apologized saying his “focus should have been on the victims of sexual misconduct and on the impacts on their lives.”

One of the ongoing criticisms of the military justice system has been its perceived inability to be free from influence by higher ranking officers. Critics, and the recent review of the National Defence Act, call for more accountability and a clear separation of authority so as to eliminate any perceived hint of using rank to influence decisions. This latest evidence of poor judgement is seen by many as a counter to those goals.

In January of this year, General Vance handed over command to Admiral Art McDonald. Shortly thereafter, both men were being charged in separate incidences of misconduct. The Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, LGen Wayne Eyre, has been spending much of his time doing damage control since his appointment in February. Eyre recognized this as another setback and described the outing as “troubling.”

LGen Rouleau was to be appointed as strategic advisor to Eyre on Future Capabilities, and LGen Frances Allen has been preparing to take over as VCDS, the first woman to hold the role. Now with a gap to fill, Major-General Blaise Frawley will serve as the acting Vice Chief until Allen takes over. According to the department, Rouleau will now be transitioning out of the CAF.

Many will legitimately question whether a friendly game of golf is enough to ruin a career over, and it shouldn’t but, at the end of the day, what we have here is a question of accountability. We hold our leaders to higher standards, and hypocrisy creates outrage. With so many of the top leadership now dealing with trust issues, you can be sure that CAF leadership courses will soon be dedicating a section on the importance of optics. Reflecting on how actions are perceived by the public and all ranks within the Canadian Armed Forces may not have been much of a concern for military leaders in the past, but it certainly is in the new normal.

Chris MacLean is Editor-in-Chief at FrontLine Defence Magazine.