Meet the military general in charge of Canada's mass COVID-19 vaccination effort
OTTAWA -- His name is Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin. He comes with nearly 30 years of military experience, but now he’s in for a mission like no other: overseeing the herculean logistical effort to see vaccines make their way across the country and into the arms of millions of Canadians in 2021.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it the “greatest mobilization effort Canada has seen since the Second World War,” and with decades of experience, including in warzones, Fortin is up for the task, according to former top Canadian military leaders.
“Dany is one of our best operationally-experienced leaders… You couldn't have asked for somebody better than somebody who understands the leadership challenges, the planning challenges… and also the capabilities that can support that organization," said retired major-general David Fraser, who was former commander of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, in an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing on Sunday.
He said that Canada’s vaccine rollout is going to be about breaking down silos within government, and having military staffed inside PHAC is a positive step in that direction.
“He knows how to build teams. This one is going to be is about teamwork and building those logistical chains to get the vaccines to the people who need it,” Fraser said.
Fortin comes in facing a timeline that if all goes smoothly, could see first vaccine approvals granted in December, initial prioritized groups vaccinated between January and March, and expanding out to more Canadians over the following months with a target of more than half of the Canadian population vaccinated by September 2021.
He will be leading the team of nearly 30 members of the Canadian Armed Forces already working out of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s “National Operations Centre,” and has been given the official title within that agency of Vice President Logistics and Operations.
Fortin is being assisted by Brig.-Gen. Simon Bernard and Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie with logistical planning and co-ordination.
The team -- including operational planners, pharmacists, health-care administrators, engineers, and IT experts -- has been in place for months, quietly planning for the rollout.
The military says it is helping to “synchronize” vaccine deliveries and the requirement for cold storage, putting in place “risk-mitigation tools” and conduct “a series of exercises” ahead of vaccines being administered to all corners of the country.
“The effort’s been underway for some months now, where they have been working out what they predict will be the supply line bottlenecks and difficulties. We've long known in Canada that deploying to some places within Canada -- the Far North, the territories -- is more difficult than deploying to Europe, and we've gotten good at it,” retired chief of defence staff Tom Lawson said on CTV’s Question Period.
“We know a lot about getting new aircraft and types of transport planes, trains and automobiles to these places, but doing it with vaccines that are somewhat fragile and need to be under certain conditions, warehousing them, making sure you're keeping track of who's getting it when, all of these things are things that right now are being laid out… They‘re rehearsing tabletop exercises what this will look like as soon as we have access,” Lawson said.
Fortin graduated from the Royal Military College Saint-Jean with a science degree in 1991 and went on to hold a series of key appointments, including:
- leading a platoon with the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia between 1993-94;
- chief of staff of Task Force Kandahar and Joint Task Force-Afghanistan between 2009-10;
- deputy commanding general for operations in the U.S. Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington from 2015 to 2017; and,
- as director of operations at the Foreign and Defence Policy Secretariat within the Privy Council Office in 2017.
Fortin also served as the commander of NATO’s Iraq mission between 2018-19 and most recently was the Chief of Staff for the Canadian Joint Operations Command.
According to his military biography, Fortin and his spouse are from Montmagny, Que., and they have one daughter.
“He's gathered, tremendous experience and every mission he's ever been on and every mission that there is in fact, succeeds or fails because of logistics. You know there's a saying in the military that amateurs talk about tactics and professionals talk logistics and Dany knows this very well,” said Lawson.
In the wake of his new role, the federal government has faced criticism for not naming him sooner. Outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump tapped a four-star Army Gen. Gustave F. Perna to be the chief operations officer for that country’s “Operation Warp Speed” in May.
In an interview on CTV News Channel on Friday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan defended the timing, saying that the military, through Operation Laser, has been working on Canada’s COVID-19 response since “day one.”
“I'm confident even within this timeframe that we'll have a good plan,” Sajjan said.
Lawson said it’s also not all on Fortin’s shoulders, as the entire Canadian Armed Forces is ready and waiting to help if needed.
“This the right guy to handle a compressed-time challenge, and the vagaries of uncertainty, because Dany's whole operational career has been in those types of environments,” Lawson said, but that “working on really short timelines is exactly what the military has always done.”