The assault trial of a high-profile military commander who once led the vaccine rollout in Canada begins today in Quebec.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin is expected to attend the two-day trial at a courthouse in Gatineau, dressed in his military uniform and medals.
Fortin has pleaded not guilty to the sexual assault charge, which is related to an incident that allegedly took place between January 1 and April 30, 1988, when Fortin was a student at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean.
A Quebec judge hears the case without a jury at Fortin’s request. Judge-only processes are usually faster.
Dressed in uniform and with his wife by his side, Fortin made an emotional statement to journalists outside the Gatineau police station on the day he was charged in 2021. Fortin told reporters that his family was living through a “nightmare”.”
Fortin also claimed that 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 crisis of sexual misconduct dominated headlines last year.
The Canadian military is shocked by a series of allegations of sexual misconduct. Since February 2021, more than a dozen current and former senior Canadian military leaders have been sidelined, investigated, criminally charged or forced to retire from some of the most powerful and prestigious posts in the defense institution.
The country’s former chief of staff, General Jonathan Vance, pleaded guilty to one charge of obstruction of justice in March.
The criminal trial of Vice Admiral Haydn Edmundson is scheduled for August 2023. Edmundson, the former chief of army personnel, is charged with assault charges and charges of committing indecent acts — charges that Edmundson denies.
MEDIA/ Military commander charged with assault says he’s living in a ‘nightmare’
Fortin has served in the Canadian Forces for more than 36 years and has claimed his reputation has been “irreparably tarnished” by the government’s handling of his case.
Fortin gained national attention during the pandemic, appearing regularly on government-broadcast COVID-19 updates alongside top ministers and health officials.
In May 2021, the Department of National Defense (DND) issued a succinct public statement announcing that Fortin would resign from his position with the Public Health Agency of Canada; the statement didn’t say why. TBEN News confirmed that day that Fortin was the subject of a military investigation of an allegation of sexual misconduct.
The following week, a military police department said it had referred Fortin’s case to civil prosecutors in Quebec. Fortin was charged with one count of assault about three months later.
Prior to the indictment, Fortin launched a legal battle in federal court in 2021 to demand a job commensurate with his rank and experience, arguing politicians unjustly interfered in his case. Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre’s notebook, which was filed in federal court, described weeks of intense discussions at the highest levels of government on how to deal with the allegation against Fortin.
Federal government lawyers said in federal court last year that Canadian officials feared the public would lose confidence in Canada’s vaccine rollouts if they learned that Fortin was under investigation over sexual assault allegations. But according to the government legal team, there was never any political interference in the decision to remove him from office.
The Federal Court ruled: last year that the military grievance procedure was the right way to address Fortin’s allegation, saying he had not taken full advantage of that mechanism.
Fortin’s lawyers have since… appealed that decision, claiming the military’s complaint process is in the wrong place because it takes too long to handle cases. TBEN News reported last year that some military members have waited nearly a decade for their grievances to be settled.
That appeal was filed before the Federal Court of Appeals on Oct. 5, according to Fortin’s legal team.
Fortin was temporarily appointed as senior advisor to the commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command in Ottawa. Fortin’s lawyers have argued that he is sitting at home and not being assigned work.