As per his plea agreement, he was granted a conditional discharge:
In exchange for his full confession, the successful completion of a year of probation (including a communications ban with Brennan on issues other than care for the child they had together), the payment of child support, and 80 hours of community service, Vance will emerge from the ordeal without a criminal record.
According to reports from the National Post, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star, Ontario Court Justice Robert Wadden noted that while Vance’s actions were “serious,” it appeared to him that “other than this, [he] was a man of good character.”
“I don’t feel it is necessary to burden you with a criminal conviction,” Wadden added, “because I feel that will allow you now to go on and to make further contributions to society.”
The following day, the Post’s Sabrina Maddeaux offered a scathing critique of the case’s outcome:
“The ongoing saga of retired general and ex-defence chief Jonathan Vance is a prime example of how our courts fail the vulnerable while tipping the scales of justice in favour of the wealthy, the decorated and the male.
… Vance was allowed to walk away from his sole criminal charge with what can’t even be described as a slap on the wrist. Rather, the presiding judge practically held his hand in solidarity.”
Although I understand Maddeaux’s reaction, I wonder whether one element of the outcome might be more complicated than she lets on.
Consider the sense of urgency evident in this excerpt from Major Brennan’s victim impact statement: “I don’t want him to have any power over me or the ability to influence me in my lifetime. I want to live free of fear of ever doing anything he tells me to do. I want to be free, heal, and keep my children safe, happy, and look to the future.”
The plea agreement seems to allow Major Brennan to begin her healing process sooner than would otherwise have been possible.
If she supported it, as Crown attorney Mark Holmes says she did, then I can see why the Crown might have chosen to close the case quickly, even if that meant agreeing to a lighter sentence than may have been possible otherwise.
On the other hand, I’m really struggling to understand Justice Wadden’s comments.
Presumably, he could have justified his decision to accept the plea by noting that both sides had agreed to it.
How could he not realize that his reflections on Vance’s character were, at the very least, remarkably insensitive – at a time when the cultural challenges facing the Canadian Armed Forces make such insensitivity inexcusable?
Back in 2017, Conservative MP Rona Ambrose introduced a private member’s bill which sought to compel any lawyer that wanted to become a judge to take a course in sexual assault law.
The bill was a response to Federal Court Justice Robin Camp’s conduct in a 2014 sexual assault trial, during which he asked the victim why she didn’t just keep her “knees together” to prevent the assault.
Ambrose’s bill died prior to the 2019 election, but was re-introduced as government legislation in February 2020. (I believed it died again last summer.)
The bill has always made me nervous.
As my former colleague at Massey College, Gib van Ert, has argued, taking responsibility for judicial training out of the hands of the arms-length Canadian Judicial Council risks politicizing the legal process and “undermining public confidence in our judges’ independence from government.”
The Vance case is forcing me to reconsider that view.
It’s been five years since Camp was forced to resign. The Canadian Judicial Council has had plenty of time to improve its education programs on its own yet, clearly, more still needs to be done.
I can only hope that members of the legal profession recognize how critical it is that they get this right, and soon.
If not, it will be hard to criticize Ottawa for stepping in.
On culture and the Canadian Armed Forces, there are some good essays in Alistair Edgar, Rupinder Mangat, and Bessma Momani’s Strengthening the Canadian Armed Forces through Diversity and Inclusion.
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