The sexual assault trial of a high-profile military commander who once led Canada’s vaccine rollout begins today in Quebec.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin is expected to attend the two-day trial in a Gatineau courthouse dressed in his military uniform and medals.
Fortin has pleaded not guilty to the sexual assault charge, which is related to an incident alleged to have taken place sometime between Jan.1 and April 30, 1988, when Fortin was a student at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean.
A Quebec judge is trying the case without a jury at Fortin’s request. Judge-alone trials tend to be swifter.
Wearing his uniform and with his wife by his side, Fortin gave an emotional statement to journalists outside the police station in Gatineau on the day he was charged in 2021. Fortin told reporters his family had been living through a “nightmare.”
Fortin also claimed the federal government removed him from his high-profile job on the vaccine rollout in the spring of 2021 due to “political calculation” when the military’s ongoing sexual misconduct crisis was dominating headlines last year.
Canada’s military has been shaken by a series of sexual misconduct claims. Since February 2021, more than a dozen current and former senior Canadian military leaders have been sidelined, investigated, criminally charged or forced into retirement from some of the most powerful and prestigious posts in the defence establishment.
The country’s former chief of defence staff, Gen. Jonathan Vance, pleaded guilty in March to one count of obstruction of justice.
Vice-Admiral Haydn Edmundson’s criminal trial is set for August 2023. Edmundson, the military’s former head of human resources, is charged with one count of sexual assault and one count of committing indecent acts — allegations Edmundson denies.
MEDIA/ Military commander charged with sexual assault says he’s living a ‘nightmare’
Fortin has served in the Canadian Armed Forces for more than 36 years and has argued his reputation has been “irreparably tarnished” by the government’s handling of his case.
Fortin gained national attention during the pandemic while appearing regularly on the government’s televised COVID-19 updates alongside top ministers and health officials.
In May 2021, the Department of National Defence (DND) issued a terse public statement announcing that Fortin was leaving his post at the Public Health Agency of Canada; the statement didn’t say why. CBC News confirmed that day that Fortin was the subject of a military investigation of a sexual misconduct allegation.
The following week, a branch of the military police said it had referred Fortin’s case to civilian Quebec prosecutors. Fortin was charged about three months later with one count of sexual assault.
Prior to the criminal charge, Fortin launched a legal battle in Federal Court in 2021 to demand a job in keeping with his rank and experience, arguing politicians improperly meddled in his case. Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre’s notebook, which was submitted to Federal Court, described weeks of intense discussions at the highest levels of government about how to handle the allegation against Fortin.
The federal government’s lawyers said last year in Federal Court that Canadian officials had concerns the public could lose confidence in Canada’s vaccine rollout if they found out Fortin was under investigation for sexual assault allegations. But there was never any political interference in the decision to remove him from his role, according to the government’s legal team.
The Federal Court ruled last year that the military grievance process was the appropriate avenue to address Fortin’s claim and said that he had not fully taken advantage of that mechanism.
Fortin’s lawyers have since appealed that decision, arguing the military’s grievance process is the wrong venue because it takes too long to process cases. CBC News reported last year that some military members have waited almost a decade to see their grievances settled.
That appeal is set for the Federal Court of Appeal on Oct. 5, according to Fortin’s legal team.
Fortin was assigned temporarily to a position as senior adviser to the commander of Canadian Joint Operations Command in Ottawa. Fortin’s lawyers have argued he’s sitting at home and is not being assigned any work.