Defence Minister Sajjan was aware of investigation into Fortin in March, PM says he learned 'weeks ago'
OTTAWA -- Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was aware in March that a military investigation was underway involving Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, several weeks before Fortin stepped aside from leading Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, CTV News has learned.
In a statement to CTV News, Sajjan’s office said the Acting Chief of Defence Staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre and the Deputy Minister of National Defence Jody Thomas informed minister Sajjan of the ongoing Canadian Forces National Investigation Service (CFNIS) investigation the same month that sources have told CTV News that the allegation that prompted the investigation was brought forward.
“The minister asked that the complainant receive any necessary support and stated that the investigation must take its due course,” said Sajjan’s press secretary Daniel Minden.
This comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday that he was informed “a number of weeks ago” that an allegation had been made against Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin and that an investigation had been initiated, but he did not receive details about what was alleged.
The public was first made aware of the investigation on Friday evening, when the Department of National Defence announced in a brief statement that Fortin would be stepping away from his role overseeing the delivery and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine doses across the country, “pending the results of a military investigation.”
As CTV News exclusively reported on Sunday, according to sources, Fortin is facing a sexual misconduct claim against him that dates back more than 30 years. The investigation stems from an allegation brought forward two months ago, sources said. Fortin, through his lawyer Cmdr. Mark Letourneau, says he “completely denies” the allegation.
Trudeau’s public comments Tuesday — his first about the investigation since it was announced – have prompted new questions about how the situation unfolded and the timing of Fortin’s departure, with opposition MPs calling for more transparency and pushing for the matter to become part of an ongoing study into the larger issue of military misconduct.
“In regards to this situation, it is being led and followed up appropriately by appropriate authorities and military leadership. In situations like this, those authorities can make the determination to inform me and my office, which they did in this case, a number of weeks ago,” Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. “As is appropriate, I didn't receive details of what is being alleged, what's going on in terms of the investigation.”
When CTV News first broke the story, both Trudeau and Sajjan’s offices offered few details about what they knew about the investigation, and when they knew it, with Sajjan’s office stating that the minister was advised on Friday that Fortin had stepped aside, and Trudeau’s office stating that in certain circumstances the PMO “is provided status updates on senior personnel decisions by the Privy Council Office.”
The investigation stems from an allegation brought forward two months ago, sources said. Sources have told CTV News that military police received a formal complaint against Fortin in March, alleging a “historical sexual assault.” The incident, sources say, allegedly dates back 32 years to early 1989, when Fortin was a student at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Que.
The sources, who are not authorized to speak publicly, said Fortin is under investigation for allegedly exposing himself before a woman.
On Tuesday, Trudeau said that he could not confirm the nature of the investigation because he “wasn’t given” those details, adding it is also “not information that has been made public by the military yet.”
“It would not be appropriate for me to be following that closely, an independent investigation like this,” Trudeau said, adding that his office’s role is about ensuring that everyone involved knows that the “proper processes” need to be followed.
FORTIN NOT FORMALLY INFORMED OF ALLEGATION: LAWYER
Speaking to CTV News following Trudeau’s remarks on Tuesday, Fortin’s lawyer clarified that Fortin had known a few weeks prior to Friday that an investigation had been initiated. It remains unclear whether it was the military police that approached Fortin about the investigation, and what led to his departure from his role with the vaccine rollout on Friday.
According to Letourneau— who is with the Defence Counsel Services and provides legal representation within Canada’s military justice system—Fortin has still not been officially informed of what the nature of the investigation is.
As Fortin’s lawyer has previously told CTV News, Fortin was not aware of the specific allegation until CTV News contacted him. The allegation has not been proven or tested in court.
The CFNIS is leading this investigation, but what steps they have taken up until now remain confidential.
In an email to CTV News speaking generally about the military police investigation process, Canadian Forces Provost Marshal Senior Public Affairs Officer Lt.-Cmdr. Jamie Bresolin said that military investigations are conducted “in a fair and impartial manner regardless of the rank or status of the subject.”
In terms of how it works, Bresolin said that upon receiving a complaint, the jurisdiction and “investigative threshold” will be assessed, and either military police or the CFNIS will proceed with the matter.
Sexual misconduct allegations have been handled by CFNIS since 2015, and these investigations can be initiated in several ways, including receiving direct complaints or information from an informant or anonymously.
All complaints are investigated that are within their jurisdiction to determine the facts and lay charges if appropriate, or until the complaint is withdrawn or determined to be unfounded, said Bresolin.
When asked why more information had not been disclosed about why Fortin remained in his job after Trudeau was made aware that an allegation had been made and that there was an investigation into the then-lead of Canada’s vaccine rollout, the prime minister said Tuesday that the matter is being handled by the “appropriate authorities.”
“I understand that people have questions and are hopeful that this process is going to be — as I highlighted my desire for it to be — fair, complete, and rigorous,” Trudeau said.
OPPOSITION WANTS TO STUDY
During a House of Commons National Defence Committee meeting on Tuesday, the Conservatives pushed for the allegation against Fortin to be brought into their study into sexual misconduct issues within the Canadian Armed Forces.
Conservative MP and defence critic James Bezan suggested that the committee invite representatives from the Canadian Armed Forces, the Privy Council Office and the Public Health Agency of Canada to appear “as soon as possible” to discuss the matter, and have the committee report back its findings within the next few weeks.
“There is now concern that government actually knew about this for weeks, as Prime Minister Trudeau said in his presser this morning… and Canadians again need to know how that information flowed? Why did it take so long to have Gen. Fortin step aside while this investigation is ongoing? … Are we looking at another cover up of sexual misconduct allegations in the Canadian Armed Forces?” asked Bezan.
The motion has yet to come to a vote, with Liberal MPs voicing opposition, stating that there is dwindling time left before Parliament is set to adjourn for the summer and other work that the committee is looking to finalize.
'WE MUST FIX THIS': FORTIN'S REPLACEMENT
The Canadian Armed Forces has been under increased scrutiny over the last few months due to misconduct allegations against several high-ranking commanders.
Asked how many investigations of this nature are ongoing within the military justice system, Trudeau said Tuesday that while in some cases his office is alerted to them, that does not necessarily happen in all cases.
“I can't speak to how many investigations are going on, but what we have seen over these past months, is that there is a pattern, and there is a culture of unacceptable actions in the military that have gone on for far too long,” said Trudeau. “We are seeing an immediate shift, and people are coming forward with allegations, some of which go back many years, others which are more recent, and that is how the system should be working. It is going to be a difficult process for the military to transform its culture, but we know everyone knows, that it is time.”
The COVID-19 immunization effort continues in the hands of Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who was named to take the lead on Monday.
While Brodie has yet to appear publicly in her new role, she did recently take part in an event where she spoke about the ongoing conversation around military sexual misconduct and its impact on the public’s trust in the institution.
“Within the Canadian Armed Forces, the CAF, we are at a strategic inflection point, a tipping point, poised on the eve of uncertain tomorrows. Propelled to this point by successive generations of institutional malaise regarding the spectrum of sexual misconduct that is pervasive in the Canadian military, and nudged by the recent allegations against successive senior leaders,” Brodie said.
“It must be acknowledged that our individual and collective acts of commission, the things we have done, and of omission, the things we have not, have caused our culture to stray from the better valours of the profession of arms, from the core values and ethical principles that we uphold as Canadians. It has undermined our operational effectiveness. It has eroded trust. It has corroded the public trust in a venerated and necessary national institution. We must be bold, we must fix this first.”