The military investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct against the former head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout must be “rigorous,” “complete” and “fair,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau faced questions for the first time since Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin stepped aside due to a military probe late last week. Questions have emerged over the handling of the investigation and the fact Fortin’s lawyer has said his client only learned the details of the allegation from a journalist on Sunday and has not yet been informed of any charge against him.
“I was informed several weeks ago but obviously because this is a process that’s independent, I did not receive much details,” said Trudeau, adding the probe must “be complete, be rigorous and be fair.”
“However, because, as is appropriate, I didn’t receive details of what is being alleged or what’s going on in terms of the investigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that investigation.”
When asked about why his office was informed several weeks ago but Fortin remained in the role until Friday night, Trudeau said the handling of the investigation is up to the military.
“They made decisions along the way.”
Fortin’s lawyer said his client “vigorously” denies the allegation.
Global News has confirmed the investigation is probing an allegation of sexual misconduct.
CTV News reported on Sunday it relates to an alleged incident from 1989 when Fortin was attending the Royal Military College Saint-Jean, and allegedly exposed himself in front of a woman.
Fortin had been leading the country’s vaccine rollout since November 2020 but stepped aside late Friday evening pending the results of a military investigation.
He is the latest senior leader in the Canadian Forces to come under investigation over the last three-and-a-half months as the military grapples with a reckoning about sexual misconduct within its ranks.
Experts have described the situation as an institutional crisis for the military and the government has since launched an independent, external review led by former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour.
The government is also facing calls to ensure the military is not allowed to conduct sexual misconduct investigations into its own members, following repeated condemnation from victims, survivors and experts into how military police conduct such probes.
Trudeau would not commit to doing so when pressed on Tuesday but the reforming of the military justice system is among the priorities laid out for Arbour in the mandate for her sweeping review.
“There is a pattern and there is a culture of unacceptable actions in the military,” said Trudeau.
“We’ve seen that with regards to sexual harassment complaints, the Canadian Forces has not always been good at doing its job at investigation.”
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said the fact that Trudeau was informed about the matter several weeks ago raised questions about why he was not informed of an allegation against Gen. Jonathan Vance in 2018.
“This further calls into question this claim that Justin Trudeau did not know of the allegation against General Vance in 2018,” he said in a statement. “With Justin Trudeau what Canadians can expect is more scandals. More of the same.”