A senior military officer who drew outrage for golfing with former defence chief Jonathan Vance amid a sexual misconduct probe has stepped aside from his role, but not from the Armed Forces overall.

Lt.-Gen. Mike Rouleau said Monday he is leaving his position as vice-chief of the defence staff immediately and will join the Canadian Armed Forces Transition Group, which helps members shift into civilian life.

Rouleau and Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Craig Baines recently teed off with Vance, who is under military police investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct. Vance denies any wrongdoing.

"Due process, or procedural fairness, matters to everyone. In this particular case, I was reaching out to a retired member of the CAF to ensure his wellness," Rouleau said in a statement.

He said it was a "private activity" and they did not discuss any matters pertaining to any ongoing military police investigations or the Armed Forces or Department of National Defence at large.

"However, I understand how such an activity could lead some to perceive a potential conflict of interest and controversy, given the current context, but nothing can be further from the truth. For this I am sorry."

Rouleau also denied he has any power over "any military probe whatsoever" — in direct contrast with the findings of a recent report by retired Supreme Court justice Morris Fish on the military justice system.

The report flagged that the vice-chief of the defence staff has the power to issue orders to the Canadian Armed Forces' top police officer, Provost Marshal Brig.-Gen. Simon Trudeau.

Since controversial changes were made to the National Defence Act in 2013, those orders have included the ability to "issue instructions or guidelines in writing in respect of a particular investigation.''

Defence vice-chief who golfed with Vance steps aside from role, but not from military. #CDNPoli #SexualMisconduct #CAF

Fish said in his report that the provision significantly encroaches on military police independence and called for it to repealed. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's office said over the weekend that it had accepted the recommendation in principle.

However, Rouleau said in his statement that the provost marshal has full command over the military police and does not report to him. During his time as the vice-chief of the defence staff, he has never issued any instructions or guidelines on military police investigations, Rouleau said.

"We in CAF fight in distant lands, in part, to defend values such as the rule of law," he said. "So in this moment, we ought to hold fast in ensuring procedural balance while aggressively reforming our culture to settle for nothing less than a big, inclusive tent where everyone feels valued and safe."

Before the golfing came to light, Rouleau was supposed to turn the vice-chief position over to Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen and move to a new role advising acting defence chief Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre.

In a statement, Eyre said the golf game is "troubling," and added that Rouleau has accepted full responsibility for the event. Effective immediately, Maj.-Gen. Blaise Frawley will be acting vice-chief of the defence staff until Allen takes over in the coming weeks, Eyre said.

Eyre added that Baines, the other officer who golfed with Vance, has also accepted responsibility for his part.

"I am seeking relevant advice to determine the way ahead," Eyre said.

On Sunday, Baines apologized and said he is taking a few days of personal leave in a message to members of the Royal Canadian Navy.

"I fully accept responsibility and accountability for not understanding how such a public display of support sends the wrong signal as to my commitment to lead in resolving our systemic cultural and misconduct issues,'' he said.

Earlier Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland added her voice to those criticizing the officers for their actions. She said it showed "very poor judgment" and she was "very disappointed and very surprised."

"Let me be clear with Canadians and maybe particularly Canadian women: there needs to be a real change in culture in the Canadian Armed Forces,'' she said.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna wrote simply in a weekend tweet: "It's appalling."

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said the golf game was "completely inappropriate" and showed there is a "broken culture" in the ranks of the Department of National Defence.

"There is no leadership from Minister Sajjan,'' O'Toole said. "With no leadership at the top, an important institution is withering before our eyes."

Sajjan said in question period on Monday his government is working toward a complete institutional culture change in the Armed Forces.

"Our members and employees deserve an institution in which they can have full confidence," Sajjan said.

Vance is accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate, Maj. Kellie Brennan, that started in 2001 and continued after he became Canada's top military commander in 2015.

He is also accused of having sent a lewd email to another soldier in 2012.

Vance has not responded to requests for comment from The Canadian Press, but Global News has reported he denies any wrongdoing.

Rouleau described himself as a "huge advocate for change" and said many members have heard him speak about leadership, culture and accountability for years.

"I have fully embraced the need for us to foster greater diversity, inclusion and respect at all levels, to curate our culture, and to uphold accountability across our institution," he said.

"I wish the amazing women and men of CAF the best, moving ahead."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.

Keep reading