The federal government has fired CEO Art McDonald as chief of defense staff and replaced him with the officer who had served as interim leader of the Canadian Armed Forces.
The appointment of General Wayne Eyre, who has held the top job on a temporary basis since February, was announced Thursday by the Prime Minister’s office.
McDonald’s resignation as chief was subsequently confirmed by Secretary of Defense Anita Anand.
McDonald stepped down from the top job in February after military police began investigating an accusation against him of sexual misconduct.
In August, military police said McDonald would not face any criminal or disciplinary charges as a result of the investigation. But the government kept McDonald on leave pending a review.
This decision prompted McDonald to launch a public campaign to get his job back. He recently sent a letter expressing this wish to all senior military officers, a move that Anand described as “shocking” and “unacceptable” Thursday.
“Today, the Governor-General has signed an order terminating CEO McDonald in this position,” Anand told Ottawa reporters.
“Gen. Eyre and I will continue to work hard to reform the culture of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
McDonald’s remains on paid leave from the military, but his lawyer, Rory Fowler, said McDonald’s told Eyre on Thursday that he intends to begin the process of withdrawing from the forces.
Fowler said he first heard about 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 dismissal by a Privy Council Office official.
“In fact, in the last nine months since he stepped down, neither the Prime Minister nor any of the national defense ministers, past or present, have had the courtesy to pick up the phone and talk to CEO McDonald,” Fowler told Star.
McDonald’s firing on the council said he had lost government confidence. The order took into account his letter and public statements issued by him and on his behalf since August, as well as contributions from McDonald this month on whether or not he should remain in the post.
The order noted that the boss has “an obligation to act in a way that will carry the closest public control, an obligation that is not fully fulfilled by simply acting within the law.”
Eyre had previously served as Commander-in-Chief 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 they respond to calls for a cultural change in the midst of an ongoing crisis of sexual abuse that has seen current and former senior military leaders under investigation or indictment.
Retired General Jonathan Vance, who had held the top job until his retirement in January, faces a criminal charge of obstructing justice as part of the military police’s investigation into allegations of misconduct.
Eyre’s term of office since February has not been without its flaws in the case of sexual abuse.
In June, it was revealed that then-Deputy Chief of Defense Staff Mike Rouleau and Navy Commander Craig Baines went on a golf trip with Vance. The excursion was particularly problematic as Vance was under investigation by the military police, who report to the deputy chief.
Rouleau, whose term of office was almost over, subsequently withdrew under public indignation. He told staff in a note that he met with senior officers under investigation with Eyre’s “full knowledge and consent”, although Eyre said he was unaware of the golf trip before it was made public.
Last month, it was revealed that the military had quietly appointed a major general. Peter Dawe to a position that helps coordinate cultural change efforts. Dawe had been on leave as chief 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 people “simply still do not understand it” about sexual misconduct. Dawe was removed from the post.
Nevertheless, an expert on military sexual misconduct described Eyre as one of the best candidates for the permanent role of Chief of the Defense Staff, and that his appointment would bring some much-needed stability.
Eyres’ “error of judgment … it’s more symptomatic of major 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 defense staff who is open to learning, open to changing course, and Eyre has shown some openness to this kind of way of leading,” she said.
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