Retired general Jonathan Vance has acknowledged he was in a sexual relationship with a subordinate while he was the chief of defence staff, after having denied the allegations in past.
In an agreed statement of facts recently filed in court, Vance also confirmed he had one child with the woman, Maj. Kellie Brennan.
Brennan, a staff officer at army headquarters, made a series of audio recordings that featured Vance conceding they had an intimate relationship while he was the top soldier. As chief of defence staff, Vance sat at the summit of the Canadian military chain of command.
“Ms. Brennan told Mr. Vance that she would disclose their relationship, including that they had sex while he was Chief of Defence Staff, during her interview with investigators …” says the statement of facts filed in court.
“[Vance] responded saying: ‘Okay, fine’. Having come to terms with the reality that she was going to disclose the entire relationship to [Canadian Forces National Investigation Service] investigators the next day, Mr. Vance said, ‘Okay. I got it. That’s good. I’m going to have to prepare myself for this.'”
Last month, Vance pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice for repeatedly contacting Brennan and attempting to persuade her to make false statements to investigators about their relationship. The agreed-upon statement of facts about the case was submitted to court as part of Vance’s guilty plea.
The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) investigated Vance last year. CFNIS did not charge him with a service offence in connection with a military order from 2004 that requires Canadian Forces members to disclose sexual relationships with other members to their chain of command.
The revelations about Vance, first reported by Global News, set off a major crisis in the military and a cascade of other claims of sexual misconduct involving senior officers. An unprecedented number of senior leaders have been removed from top jobs since February 2021 in connection with sexual misconduct claims.
/ Retired general pleads guilty to obstruction of justice, gets conditional discharge
Speaking to Global News, Vance initially denied having had a relationship with Brennan. He now concedes that his relationship with Brennan started in 2001 while they were posted to Gagetown, N.B. and lasted until “early 2021, around the time of his retirement,” according to the statement of facts.
“Jonathan Vance had a long-standing intimate relationship with Kellie Brennan, another member of the Canadian Forces, and a subordinate officer,” says the statement of facts.
The document also lays out details of what was said on the audio recordings Brennan shared with investigators that later led to the obstruction of justice charge.
After Global News first contacted Vance around Feb. 1, 2021 to ask about “the existence of an affair” with Brennan, Vance called Brennan on multiple occasions to discuss a “collaborative and mutually beneficial response to publicity concerning their clandestine, intimate relationship,” says the agreed-upon statement of facts.
“He promoted a false narrative, in which he encouraged Ms. Brennan to perpetuate his lie: ‘sex in Gagetown, no sex in Toronto, no sex while CDS.'”
Vance asked Brennan if she was ‘clear on our story’
Vance acknowledged during one of the calls the possibility of an investigation and that investigators would want Brennan as a witness, the statement of facts says.
“In the fifth and final call in the series of calls on 1 February 2021, Mr. Vance outlined various adverse consequences from the public disclosure of their illicit affair, including the impact on his reputation, his employment, and the end of his marriage,” said the statement.
In one of the recorded calls cited in the statement of facts, Vance tells Brennan that, “before the storm starts,” he wanted to “make certain that” Brennan was “clear on our story” and that she would “stick to it.”
Brennan revealed publicly in testimony before a House of Commons committee hearing in April 2021 that she shared her recordings of the calls with investigators. During that same appearance, Brennan claimed Vance had fathered two of her eight children. Later DNA testing confirmed Vance was the father of one of the children.
Both the Crown and defence submitted a joint recommendation to an Ottawa court last month requesting a conditional discharge in exchange for Vance entering a guilty plea. The judge granted that request and gave Vance one year of probation and 80 hours of community service — and no criminal record.
Justice Robert Wadden said he didn’t feel it was “necessary to burden [Vance] with a criminal conviction” because he felt Vance could go on and make further contributions to society.
Among the factors Wadden took into consideration during sentencing were character references from retired military members and a former chaplain general, Maj.-Gen. Guy Chapdelaine, who is still serving.
‘I don’t want him to have any power over me’
Others who wrote positive character references for Vance include retired major-general Simon Hetherington, retired warrant officer Barbara Bajema, former deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement Canada Gavin Liddy, retired warrant officer Matthew Parsons, retired chief warrant officer Andrew Stapleford and retired U.S. lieutenant-general Frederick Hodges.
Brennan told CBC News she told the Crown “not to bother” reading her victim impact statement in court because Vance had negotiated a plea bargain already and because there is an ongoing custody battle over their child.
A copy of her statement submitted to court described the emotional toll caused by Vance’s behaviour.
“To find myself in a position where my superior was abusing his power and using his authority to intimidate and silence me was a complete betrayal of everything I respected in the military,” she wrote.
“I don’t want him to have any power over me or the ability to influence me in my lifetime.”
Brennan wrote she has changed jobs, has lost respect for her chain of command and doesn’t want to speak to Vance again.
“I want to be free, heal and keep my children safe, happy and look to the future,” wrote Brennan.