The military police watchdog is launching a probe into how investigators handled a historical sexual-assault allegation against a senior officer who was a central figure in Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
A Quebec court acquitted Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin last December of one count of sexual assault, after the military police investigated the allegation from 1988 and then passed the case along to provincial prosecutors.
Fortin claims he has been the victim of a biased investigation and that he was charged on the basis of insufficient evidence.
The Military Police Complaints Commission is now looking into how the military police handled the case, saying Fortin’s claims about senior military officials being involved make it a matter of public interest.
The commission wrote a letter to Fortin, which it posted online, that notes it had sought the military police’s full investigation file in late January. The letter said the military only responded two months later with a synopsis document “a few pages long, that contains only a summary of the investigation.”
In a written statement delivered through his lawyer, Fortin said that decision was “outrageous and unacceptable” and that he welcomes the commission’s decision to review the case.
Fortin had been leading the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout in May 2021 when he was removed from the role pending an investigation.
A Quebec civilian judge acquitted him, saying the complainant was likely sexually assaulted but the Crown had not proven Fortin was the assailant, and the Canadian Armed Forces subsequently cleared him of misconduct.
Fortin has accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other senior members of the government of having turfed him for purely political reasons at a time when the Liberals were accused of not doing enough to address sexual misconduct in the military.
He has demanded the military restore him to an equivalent position.
The complaints commission says its investigation will touch on whether “sexual assault investigations were to become, consciously or unconsciously, tainted by biases against victims or suspects” as a result of public and media scrutiny.
As of April 20, the commission was still waiting for the entire case file of the investigation.
When asked whether the file has since been provided, the Canadian military acknowledged an email Tuesday and said it would try to provide a response.
The sexual assault allegation stemmed from Fortin’s time at the military college in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., which the complainant also attended.
A Crown prosecutor told court in September that the complainant, whose identity is protected by a publication ban, waited until 2021 to bring the incident to light because she had retired and no longer feared career repercussions.
The judge said the complainant had credible reasons to not report the incident for so many decades, given shortfalls in how the military has handled such allegations.