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Liberals signal plan to keep acting defence chief as Eyre gets promotion

OTTAWA — Acting chief of the defence staff Wayne Eyre has been promoted in what can only be seen as a signal the Trudeau government plans to keep the infantry officer as commander of Canada's military.

OTTAWA — Acting chief of the defence staff Wayne Eyre has been promoted in what can only be seen as a signal the Trudeau government plans to keep the infantry officer as commander of Canada's military.

The Department of National Defence announced Eyre's surprise promotion from lieutenant-general to full general on Friday following what was described a small ceremony presided over by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.

While Eyre will also continue to act as chief of the defence staff, the Defence Department said, his promotion suggests the government is considering keeping him there permanently.

“I want to thank Gen. Eyre for his continued dedicated service to Canada and to the Canadian Armed Forces,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a statement. “His presence this year has ensured stable leadership and progress for the organization. “

Eyre has held the position since February, when Admiral Art McDonald voluntarily stepped down after only five weeks as defence chief amid a military police investigation into his conduct. That investigation ended last week and resulted in no charges.

While McDonald has since said through his lawyers that the lack of charges amounts to a full exoneration and that he plans to return to his post, cabinet has ordered to remain on leave until they can decide what to do with him.

Eyre’s promotion represents a rare instance in which Canada has two officers at the rank of general or admiral at the same time. Canada has traditionally only had one “four-star” officer at a time, with that person serving as defence chief.

One of the few exceptions was between 2005 and 2008 when both Ray Henault and Rick Hillier held the rank of general. Henault was serving at the time as NATO’s top military adviser while Hillier was defence chief. Henault was defence chief before Hillier.

“This has been a tough year and we face more challenges and hard work ahead, but I am confident in our ability to reconstitute the Canadian Armed Forces and transform ourselves to face the increasingly dangerous world,” Eyre said in a statement.

McDonald announced on Feb. 24 that he was stepping down because of an investigation into his conduct, only five weeks after being sworn in as chief of the defence staff.

Military police announced last week that the investigation was over, and that they had decided there was not enough evidence to charge him.

The nature of the allegation against McDonald has not been publicly confirmed, but CBC has reported that it related to an allegation of sexual misconduct dating back to his time commanding a Canadian warship in 2010.

Global News has reported that navy Lt. Heather Macdonald, a navy combat systems engineer, came forward with the allegation against McDonald. Macdonald was quoted by Global last week as saying she was upset by the military police decision.

The Liberal government has faced calls not to reinstate McDonald despite the lack of charges, with some experts and victims' advocates questioning the decision to have military police, rather than civilian authorities, lead the investigation.

These experts and advocates have suggested this casts doubt on the veracity of the investigation, and that McDonald does not now have the moral authority to lead the military in changing its culture.

They also note chiefs of the defence staff are appointed by — and serve at — the pleasure of the government in power.

McDonald's legal team, which declined to comment on Eyre’s promotion on Friday, has said their client, a former Royal Canadian Navy commander, is completely innocent and that the lack of charges proves the allegation against him was unfounded.

They added that McDonald passed a polygraph test that asked about past incidents of misconduct before taking over as defence chief in January and co-operated fully during the investigation.

The lawyers also cited the need to respect due process in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2021.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press