Top NATO role sits empty following general's affair with co-worker
The Canadian Forces has yet to find an officer to fill a top NATO job after the general selected for the assignment was dropped at the last minute because of an affair he had with a co-worker.
Lt.-Gen. Chris Coates was to have become deputy commander of Joint Force Command in Naples, Italy, but Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan put a halt to that assignment. Sajjan told this newspaper he made his decision after being recently told that Coates had an affair with a U.S. civilian co-worker while he was deputy commander of the North American Aerospace Defence Command in Colorado.
Coates is the latest of the Canadian Forces leadership to come under scrutiny.
Chief of the Defence Staff Adm. Art McDonald stepped down Feb. 24 from that job after being put under military police investigation. Allegations of sexual misconduct have been made against McDonald, according to sources, but police will not comment. The admiral had only been in the job since Jan. 14.
McDonald's predecessor, Gen. Jon Vance, is also under police investigations because of allegations of sexual misconduct. Gen. Wayne Eyre, the head of the Canadian Army, has been brought in as acting defence chief. The police investigation into Vance started shortly after he retired as defence chief in mid-January.
Sajjan was kept in the dark for almost a year about the Coates affair and said he was only recently told about it by McDonald. The minister did not explain why Vance didn't brief him about Coates' affair with a civilian U.S. co-worker at NORAD. Sources say the affair caused concern among U.S. military officials who have strict rules against adultery and fraternization.
Jody Thomas, the deputy minister at National Defence and Coates' sister-in-law, did not brief Sajjan about the issue because that is not her job, according to the DND. “Management and discipline of officers of the CAF is the responsibility of the CDS, in this case, General Vance,” explained National Defence spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier.
Sajjan did not respond to the question about whether he is concerned he may have been kept in the dark by Vance on other issues. This newspaper requested comment from Vance who did not respond. Department of National Defence officials confirmed the affair, but said since Coates broke no Canadian rules he continued with his posting at NORAD headquarters in Colorado until the assignment was complete. “These types of personal relationships are dealt with inside the respective national chain of command and subject to the nation of origin's regulations on fraternization,” Le Bouthillier said.
Coates, who was married at the time, reported the situation to senior Canadian leadership.
Coates was later transferred from NORAD and assumed command of the Canadian Joint Operations Command or CJOC in Ottawa in July 2020. Coates was supposed to leave his job as head of CJOC last week in preparation for taking on the NATO position. He continues to serve as commander of CJOC.