OTTAWA — Canada’s former top military officer, under investigation for sexual misconduct, was charged with obstruction of justice on Thursday, the latest in a series of events that have highlighted widespread harassment and conflicts of interest in the country’s military, much of it involving the force’s elite.
The charge against Gen. Jonathan Vance, the former chief of the Canadian Forces defense staff, who twice led the military’s troops based in Kandahar, Afghanistan, came out of an investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against him.
In a statement, the Canadian Forces investigative arm offered no details other than that the obstruction of justice occurred in February, during its inquiry. The general retired in January.
Michel Drapeau, a former Canadian military officer who now teaches law at the University of Ottawa, said no defense staff leader has ever faced criminal charges.
“Many serving members and retired members like myself see this with great dismay and with sorrow,” he said in a phone interview. “We don’t know if this is the end or the beginning of a process — there are so many allegations.”
Global News, a broadcaster, reported that court documents show that Mr. Vance had contacted a woman and asked her to “to make false statements about their past relationship” to investigators.
The charge against Mr. Vance was brought under criminal law rather than through the military justice system and will be heard in a civilian court, the investigation service said. Several military law experts contend that the design of Canada’s military justice system makes it impossible to court-martial the force’s top commander, a step that has no precedent.
The charges are the latest step in a series of events related to sexual misconduct and the country’s military elite. Two reviews, one issued as recently as last month, have also found that the Canadian military is rife with sexual harassment.
Not long after the investigation into Mr. Vance started, Adm. Art McDonald, his successor, stepped aside when he became the subject of a separate misconduct inquiry.
Even Canada’s vaccine rollout was touched by sexual misconduct allegations. Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin stepped down in May as the head of logistics for the rollout after he became the subject of an investigation into allegations of misconduct that occurred while he was a student in military college.
In March, Vice Adm. Haydn Edmundson, the military’s head of personnel, went on indefinite leave as he became the subject of a sexual misconduct investigation.
And last month the military’s second-in-command quit after inviting Mr. Vance to a golf game. Lt. Gen. Mike Rouleau, the vice chief of the defense staff, said that he had proposed the game to Mr. Vance “to ensure his wellness.”
While General Rouleau said that the investigation was not discussed, he acknowledged that he understood “how such an activity could lead some to perceive a potential conflict of interest.”
In 2019, the government allocated $690 million to settle claims of sexual harassment and misconduct within its military that were brought in five class-action lawsuits.
As the incidents have piled up, opposition members of Parliament have called for the resignation of Harjit Sajjan, the defense minister who is a former lieutenant colonel in the army and served in Bosnia and Afghanistan.
In February, Global News broadcast an interview with Kellie Brennan, a former army major, who said that she had a sexual relationship with Mr. Vance over several years, including periods when she was under his command in Toronto and Ottawa.
In April at a House of Commons committee hearing, Ms. Brennan said that Mr. Vance told her that he was “untouchable” and instructed her to lie if asked about their relationship.
While Mr. Vance never physically threatened her, Ms. Brennan said, he made it clear that there would be serious consequences if she spoke out against him.
She also testified that he fathered two of her children during their relationship but does not support them.
Mr. Vance did not comment on Thursday. In the past he has denied having sex with Ms. Brennan while she was under his command but acknowledged that they dated in 2001.
Investigators are also examining emails Mr. Vance sent to another woman in the military.
While he was chief of defense staff, a position to which he was appointed by the previous Conservative government, General Vance began a highly publicized campaign to root out sexual harassment in the military. The current investigation has led the military to develop a new plan based, instead, on the latest independent review.
In the report of that review, Morris Fish, a former Supreme Court justice, found that sexual misconduct remains as “debilitating, as rampant and as destructive” as it was during a similar review in 2015.
Ex-Military Commander in Canada Is Charged With Obstruction of Justice is written by Ian Austen for www.nytimes.com