A two-week court-martial for the Canadian Forces’ former human relations chief is expected to begin Monday over allegations of an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.
Lieutenant General. Steven Whelan was charged in July 2022 with two counts under the National Defense Act related to “conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.”
The charges are linked to alleged incidents that occurred between January 2010 and June 2011 while Whelan served as commander of the Jerusalem Task Force, the defense department said. The task force helped train PA security forces to build their capacity, according to the defense department’s website.
Whelan has previously denied any wrongdoing.
Whelan is one of the highest-ranking military personnel whose case has been tried in the military court system in recent history.
Since late 2021, the military said all new charges of sexual offenses under the Penal Code are brought by civilian police and prosecuted in civilian courts. The move is in response to retired Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbor’s interim recommendation to transfer such cases to civil authorities due to “eroded trust and morale.”
Whelan’s case is going through the military justice system because the investigation did not “reveal any evidence” to support the filing of criminal charges and is “specific to the military context.” the defense department has said.
A landmark report on the military justice system by retired Supreme Court Justice Morris Fish found a number of real and perceived gaps in the military justice system’s independence from the chain of command.
Whelan is also the highest-ranking military officer to face a court-martial in connection with the military’s sexual misconduct crisis.
Since 2021, approximately a dozen current and former senior Canadian military officers have been sidelined, investigated or forced to retire from some of the most powerful and prestigious positions in the defense establishment.
Whelan replaced now-retired Vice Admiral Haydn Edmundson, who was charged in 2021 with sexual assault and commission of indecent acts stemming from allegations dating back to 1991.
Edmundson pleaded not guilty in civil court.
Whelan served as military personnel commander for less than six months when he resigned from his position in October 2021 amid the investigation by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS), the investigative branch of the military police. .
Acting Chief of the Defense Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre and then-Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan learned of the investigation four months earlier, Breaking: previously reported.
As commander of the military personnel, Whelan had authority over professional consequences for service members who had engaged in sexual misconduct.
The government website says one of the main issues in Whelan’s office was also complying with a sexual misconduct class action settlement. The government reached a $900 million settlement in 2019 and more than 18,000 people have come forward to file claims in 2021.
Military judge will preside over the case
Military judge, Cmdr. Martin Pelletier will preside over the permanent court-martial for Whelan’s case in Gatineau, Que. A permanent court-martial is a military court over which a military judge presides alone without a panel of military members.
Fish raised “major concerns” in 2021 as military judges continued to hear cases. Fish recommended in his review of Canada’s military justice system that military judges resign their rank and become civilians to safeguard their impartiality and legitimacy.
Fish wrote in his final report that he has no reason to doubt the actual independence of the military judges he met with. But he said there are serious concerns “that the appearance of justice will be harmed by the fact that military judges remain members of the CAF while in office.”
Last week, the defense minister said the government is working to change the law to follow through with Fish’s recommendations, but did not provide a date for when that would happen.