A publication ban is now in place on the identity of the alleged victim.
Fortin’s legal team said the charge stems from the military police investigation launched in March 2021, and which the military referred to the Quebec prosecution service in May, just five days after Fortin stepped aside as the head of the country’s vaccine rollout.
A lawyer for Fortin said the alleged incident took place between Jan. 1 and April 30, 1988, and noted the time period was “consistent” with the allegation Fortin was told of while leading the vaccine rollout.
A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence told Global News Fortin has been temporarily reassigned to the supernumerary post of senior advisor to the commander of the Canadian Joint Operations Command.
“A determination on next steps will be made in due course,” said Jessica Lamirande in an email.
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“We will not provide further details at this time due to privacy considerations and that the matter is currently before the courts.”
Fortin arrived at the police station in Hull, just across the river from Ottawa on the Quebec side, on Wednesday morning wearing his military uniform and accompanied by his legal team and his wife.
He made a statement in French and English, saying the decision to remove him was the result of “political calculus” and that his legal team has struggled to get any information about the case.
“My legal team has repeatedly, repeatedly contacted prosecutors to seek information without success,” Fortin said to reporters gathered outside the police station.
“I’ve been forced to read much about me in media with no outlet and no ability to defend my name.”
Fortin said he was contacted on Monday by the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service — the military police unit that handles major cases — telling him that there was a warrant for his arrest and that he was to appear at the Hull police station on Wednesday morning.
He called the warrant “a total surprise.”
Philippe Morneau, one of Fortin’s lawyers, said the general’s defence will be led by Montreal defence lawyer Isabel Schurman and that Fortin is due to be arraigned at the Gatineau courthouse on Sept. 20.
Arraignment is typically when accused persons enter a formal plea of either guilty or not guilty.
Fortin’s lawyers have previously said he denies any wrongdoing in the matter.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was asked about the case by journalists on the campaign trail on Wednesday, but said it would be inappropriate for him to comment.
“I’m not going to make any comments on that because obviously it is an ongoing court situation, but I will repeat how incredibly important it is that everyone who serves in the Canadian Forces has an environment that is safe,” Trudeau said.
He previously faced intense scrutiny for publicly speculating on the outcome of an investigation into now-retired Vice-Adm. Mark Norman, whose breach of trust charge was stayed in 2019 after a trial that saw frequent accusations of political interference levied by his defence team against Trudeau’s officials.
The Canadian Forces is in the midst of a reckoning over sexual misconduct within its ranks following exclusive reporting by Global News on Feb. 2 into allegations against retired Gen. Jonathan Vance, the former chief of the defence staff. He denies all allegations of inappropriate behaviour and last month was charged with one count of obstruction of justice in relation to the probe of the matter.
Adm. Art McDonald, who replaced Vance in January, pledged a probe of the matter but then stepped aside weeks later after military police opened an investigation into an allegation against him.
While military police said they did not have the evidence needed to lay any charges, McDonald has not been reinstated and the general acting in his place, Wayne Eyre, was recently promoted to an equivalent rank and McDonald was placed on indefinite administrative leave.
Multiple other senior leaders have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, and the crisis has put renewed spotlight on the need for an independent reporting mechanism for complaints — one that operates outside of the military chain of command, and where military leaders do not decide which cases should be handled internally versus externally.
Repeated reviews including the landmark 2015 Deschamps reports have identified a “toxic” culture towards women and LGBTQ members, emphasizing that the military’s chain of command hierarchy leads to allegations being swept under the rug and an environment ripe for the abuse of power.
The Liberal government in the spring tapped former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour to lead an external review tasked with providing recommendations on how best to create an independent reporting structure for military sexual misconduct.
But they have so far offered no timeline for when they will begin acting to put that system into place.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Wednesday said the lack of clear detail on that promise leaves him “deeply concerned” and said it sends a “chilling message” to military members.
“The priority has to be we implement that immediate, independent process so we can start fixing this culture that has allowed so much violence against women in the military,” he said from the campaign trail.
The Department of National Defence over the weekend launched an online promise tracker outlining timelines for some of the initiatives planned to try to change the military culture.
The creation of the independent review system is not yet among them.