Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan has ordered a review of the speedy release of a former naval commander who was under investigation for sexual misconduct and is now working back as a civilian at the naval base in Halifax.
The move comes days after CBC News first contacted the Department of National Defense (DND) about retired Commander Danny Croucher’s case.
“When the minister heard about this situation late yesterday afternoon, he was appalled by the apparent lack of judgment,” Sajjan spokesman Todd Lane wrote in a statement to CBC News.
In June 2020, the Navy temporarily removed Croucher from his job as head of the Naval Warfare School at CFB Halifax, the Department of Defense confirmed. He was removed from his post after a complaint was filed against Croucher alleging that he made inappropriate and harmful comments that are said to be sexual, several sources with knowledge of the case state.
Sources said a subsequent investigation found errors on Croucher’s part. Sources said he was expected to receive a so-called “5-F” – an involuntary release from the military. Instead, several sources confirmed that Croucher’s request for voluntary release was granted, allowing him to land a civilian job at the base in June.
CBC News has now learned that the Canadian Armed Forces is reviewing the case to determine if it has broken its own rules. At the very least, it appears that the military falsified the spirit of its own rules by signing Crouchers’ request to leave the Navy voluntarily before his case reached the disciplinary stage.
“The military acted as if they were above the law and can do as they please,” said military law expert and retired Colonel Michel Drapeau.
“Someone at the National Defense Headquarters within the Directorate of Military Career Administration played ball with this … Here we are a senior officer who somehow escaped accountability.”
CBC asked for comments from Croucher, but received no response. DND said it has confirmed he is rejecting comments at this time.
Acting Chief of Defense Staff ‘extremely concerned’
In June, Croucher transferred to the DND in a new job as “senior staff officer sustainable management” at the same naval base – Maritime Forces Atlantic in Halifax – where he previously served at the Naval Warfare School. His new position appears to come with a lower salary.
The military is also investigating what led to Croucher’s release from the military and his employment in the defense department.
“This case has just this week come to DND / CAF’s top management – including [Acting Chief of Defence Staff] and [Deputy Minister] “Both are extremely concerned about this development and have ordered full reviews and investigations into the circumstances,” DND spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier wrote in a statement to CBC News.
“The results of the review may lead to administrative or disciplinary action if violations are found,” the department said.
‘Someone made it happen’
CBC News asked the DND that made this decision to voluntarily release Croucher; the department has not answered the question yet. The review of the case is expected to investigate who was responsible.
The Queen’s Ordinances and Orders state that if a “commander” or “chief of defense” signs a voluntary release, they must confirm that the military member is not allowed to avoid consequences for misdemeanors.
“For this to happen, someone made it happen,” Drapeau said. “Someone enabled a release on request as opposed to forced release when someone failed in service.
“Someone got a free pass. It shows a lack of social intelligence, common sense, certain awareness and respect … It’s almost a daily drip of news stories about management’s lack of sensitivity.”
This is the second time this week that the media learned that a senior military leader trapped in the crisis of sexual misconduct quietly began working in a new role.
The deputy chief of defense apologized late Tuesday night for improper handling of Major General. Peter Dawe returned to work on the sexual abuse case. Dawe has been on leave since May after the CBC revealed he wrote a positive character reference in 2017 to a soldier convicted of sexual assault.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday that he was “stunned” and “appalled” at the handling of Dawe’s case, saying it was “obvious” that “the military still does not understand that the survivors should be at the center.”
Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said this case shows how deeply rooted the problem of sexual misconduct is within the military.
“There are some disciplinary issues that the military does not really consider an ethical ethical issue and that other people can get rid of some behavioral issues and grossly unethical behavior,” she said.
The government has given former Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor the task of leading an external review of sexual harassment and misconduct in the military.