Feds face calls to be more transparent about Fortin's departure, as replacement named
OTTAWA -- The federal government faced new calls Monday to be more transparent with Canadians about Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin’s departure, with ministers taking questions about the matter in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s absence.
Now, with the vaccine rollout in a pivotal moment without a logistical lead, Fortin’s replacement has been named: Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who was initially seconded to work alongside Fortin at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Operations Centre in November 2020.
On Friday, 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 has exclusively reported, according to sources, Fortin is facing a sexual misconduct claim against him that dates back more than 30 years. Fortin, through his lawyer Cmdr. Mark Letourneau with the Defence Counsel Services, has categorically denied the allegation.
Fortin had been the public face of Canada’s vaccine rollout since November, and was joined by a team of nearly 30 members of the Canadian Armed Forces including operational planners, pharmacists, health-care administrators, engineers, and IT experts.
With Brodie now at the helm, PHAC President Iain Stewart is promising a “seamless transition.”
CALLS FOR TRANSPARENCY
Little has been offered publicly at this point about who was aware and when of the allegations or investigation into Fortin. The Prime Minister’s Office has told CTV News that when appropriate the PMO is given status updates on senior personnel by the Privy Council Office, but whether that happened in this case, they would not say.
On Monday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole issued a statement calling for more information about the investigation into Fortin, as Canadians have yet to hear from Trudeau directly on the matter.
“Justin Trudeau must be transparent with Canadians, who deserve confidence in our system, and that starts with providing information,” he said. “We still don’t know who will be taking over distributing vaccines across Canada."
Trudeau participated in an energy retrofit announcement alongside Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan on Monday morning, but he left the call before the question and answer portion began.
According to a staff member, the prime minister could not stay on the line to take reporters’ questions due to a “scheduling conflict.”
Fielding questions in Trudeau’s absence, O’Regan said that the government remains “committed to building a true culture of inclusion of the Canadian Armed Forces and at the Department of National Defence, so everybody's treated with dignity and respect.”
Neither Qualtrough nor O’Regan spoke to the investigation directly, but both dismissed concerns that Fortin’s departure would impact the national vaccination campaign. Before Brodie was named, Qualtrough said that while she could not speak to who may be filling in for Fortin, either permanently or in the interim, that the team in will continue its work.
“I've been sitting on the cabinet COVID committee since the very beginning, and I can assure Canadians that it won't have any impact in terms of the operational capacity,” she said. “I have every confidence that Canadians will not feel any impact in terms of the vaccine rollout.”
FORTIN FACING HISTORICAL ALLEGATION
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.
The investigation stems from this allegation brought forward two months ago, sources said, but it’s unclear whether the military police approached him.
The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is leading this investigation, but what steps they have taken up until now remain confidential. The allegation has not been proven in court.
In a statement, Fortin’s lawyer said he was not aware of the allegation until CTV News contacted him and that Fortin “completely denies” any wrongdoing. Fortin’s lawyer also said that his client was surprised to find out he was the subject of an investigation on Friday.
According to the latest military police annual report, 1,376 “sexual-related incidents” were reported between 2016 and the end of 2019. Historic claims— defined as reports filed a year or more after the alleged incidents—represented 27.4 per cent of all reported sexual-related incidents.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office told CTV News on Sunday that Sajjan was advised on Friday that Fortin had stepped aside, by the acting chief of defense staff. The PMO has told CTV News that Trudeau still has full confidence in Sajjan.
The Canadian Armed Forces has been under increased scrutiny in recent months due to misconduct allegations against several high-ranking commanders, former defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance and his successor, Admiral Art McDonald, both of whom deny any wrongdoing.
Speaking to the federal government’s handling of military sexual misconduct generally Monday, NDP MP and defence critic Randall Garrison suggested that if the federal Liberals had taken it more seriously in the years past, Canada might not have ended up in this situation.
“This is another case where the failure to act over the past six years, to take seriously the crisis of sexual misconduct has broader impacts now than just in the Canadian military,” he said on CTV’s Power Play.
With files from CTV News’ Annie Bergeron-Oliver and Kevin Gallagher.