Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin says he is not guilty of sexual assault and never had any physical contact with a woman who made detailed allegations against him in court this week.
Speaking in French, Maj.-Gen. Fortin told a Gatineau, Que., courtroom Tuesday afternoon that he was shocked and devastated to learn of the allegations.
The complainant in a sexual assault trial said earlier Tuesday that Maj.-Gen. Fortin was “without a doubt” the person who attacked her in her dorm room one night in 1988.
Maj.-Gen. Fortin was the military officer in charge of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign. He was removed from the position in May, 2021 and charged with one count of sexual assault three months later.
His defence lawyer, Isabel Schurman, has argued that the complainant incorrectly identified Fortin.
The complainant, whose identity is protected under a publication ban, testified on Monday that she woke up one night at the military college barracks in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., and realized that a man had taken her hand and was masturbating himself with it, while his other hand was on her breast.
She told the court she opened her eye and recognized Maj.-Gen. Fortin, then pushed him away and told him to get off her before he backed away.
Maj.-Gen. Fortin, in military uniform, tented his fingers on the desk in front of him while he testified Tuesday, standing in the same spot where the complainant gave her testimony as he watched.
His lawyer asked detailed questions about the layout of the military college and the barracks.
Maj.-Gen. Fortin’s testimony shored up the complainant’s account that her door had to remain unlocked. He said doors were not locked for fire safety reasons, and outside doors were unlocked with no one guarding them and verifying who came and went.
He asserted that he never entered the room of the complainant or made any kind of sexual overtures toward her. He has not yet been cross-examined by the prosecution.
In her cross-examination of the complainant on Monday, Ms. Schurman pointed out differences between her testimony in court versus accounts she gave to an investigator last year on details such as the timing of the incident, whether she heard and recognized Maj.-Gen. Fortin’s voice and whether her roommate was present.
During the emotional conclusion of her testimony Tuesday morning, the complainant pushed back on the suggestion that her fuzziness on some of the circumstances could cast doubt on her memory of key details.
She said, testifying in English, that she still has “nightmares” and a “recurring vision” of the assault – and though she can’t be 100 per cent sure of some of the specifics 34 years later, she is ironclad on her attacker’s identity.
“I can assure you without a doubt that it was Dany Fortin standing over me masturbating himself with my hand,” she said. “I looked at him. I knew that man.”
Immediately after the encounter, she said, she visited her then-boyfriend and told him about what happened. She also testified that their relationship later soured and that they were “definitely not” on good terms.
Her ex-boyfriend was called as a witness by the defence on Tuesday. He acknowledged their relationship on the stand but told the court in French that he had no memory of the conversation, or of any interaction between the complainant and Maj.-Gen. Fortin.
During cross-examination, prosecutor Diane Legault asked whether he knew of any assaults on campus at the time. He said he didn’t remember having knowledge of any sexual assault of a criminal nature, but he acknowledged that he witnessed discussions or an environment that could be described with the term “sexual misconduct.”
The complainant also testified on Monday that she believed her roommate was in the room during the assault and could have been a witness – and that she later asked her roommate, without offering specifics, whether she had seen or heard something.
Ms. Legault also called the complainant’s former roommate to the stand.
Testifying in English, she corroborated the complainant’s account that they stayed together in a double room in the barracks at the time and that she, too, knew Maj.-Gen. Fortin.
She said she had memories of having fun with Maj.-Gen. Fortin, that he was a classmate and “camaraderie was expected.”
Her overall experience in the military college was not positive, she said. “You were exposed to a lot of behaviours that probably were not appropriate.”
She noted that they were teenagers, many of them under the legal drinking age and being pushed to their limits.
She said she had no memory of being asked about an incident by her then-roommate. “I’m not saying it didn’t happen, because personally, from my own trauma, I blocked a lot of those memories out,” she said.