Skip to main content
opinion

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, then-vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, participates in a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, Jan. 15, 2021.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Because this is Canada, where officials are loath to go on record to describe the colour of the sky or whether rain indeed feels wet, it will probably be some time before the complete picture of the allegation against Major-General Dany Fortin is fully known.

When Maj.-Gen Fortin was suddenly removed as the head of Canada’s vaccine rollout last week, the nature of the military investigation that prompted his departure was not specified. The Globe and Mail was the first to report that, according to a source, the allegation against Maj.-Gen. Fortin was sexual in nature. That was confirmed Wednesday when the Armed Forces provost marshal said “an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct involving Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin” was being referred to Quebec’s public prosecution service.

The specifics of the allegation have not been disclosed, but CTV News has reported that it dates back to 1989, when Maj.-Gen. Fortin was a student at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in Quebec. According to CTV’s sources, Maj.-Gen. Fortin allegedly exposed himself to a woman, though Maj.-Gen. Fortin, through his lawyer, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

The timeline of who knew what when is predictably opaque, just as it has been on the matter of the sexual misconduct investigation involving former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance. In that case, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he knew of the nature of the allegation, but chose not to look at the complaint and instead punted the case elsewhere. On Maj.-Gen. Fortin, Mr. Sajjan’s office says the minister knew of the investigation weeks ago, but did not directly answer when asked by the CBC if he knew the allegation was sexual in nature.

Quebec prosecutor to decide on laying charges against Maj.-Gen. Fortin

Trudeau alerted weeks ago of misconduct allegation against Fortin, former head of COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said he learned of the investigation into Maj.-Gen. Fortin weeks ago, but added that his office “didn’t receive details of what is being alleged.” Similarly, on the Vance matter, Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford told the House of Commons defence committee that while she was made aware of a complaint against Mr. Vance back in 2018, her office was “not given the substance or the details of the allegations. We did not know what the complaint was about.”

It appears that there is either a distinct lack of curiosity among top government officials when it comes to misconduct allegations against Canadian Armed Forces leadership, or a distinct interest in maintaining a degree of plausible deniability to insulate political figures from CAF sexual scandal. But neither explanation offers much rationale for the persistent lack of transparency on even the most mundane details about these investigations. It still remains unclear, for example, why last Friday marked the tipping point as Maj.-Gen. Fortin’s last day as the head of vaccine logistics, even though the allegation against him was made weeks earlier. The Department of National Defence will not comment.

Yet there is clear public interest in disclosure on these issues; it goes without saying that Canadians have a right to know the specifics of why the person in charge of the country’s vaccine rollout was abruptly severed from the role, in the middle of a pandemic, when the job isn’t even half done.

There are further implications of knowing whether a 30-year-old allegation has in fact sidelined Maj.-Gen. Fortin’s career. It would convey to current students of the Royal Military College that an incident today could derail their military careers decades from now. It would convey to victims who haven’t yet come forward that it is not too late to do so. It might also convey, conversely – if the allegation is indeed one simply of unwanted exposure – that the CAF might be overreacting in the wake of decades of lethargy on the matter of the toxic sexualized culture in the military. That’s not to suggest that sort of behaviour is in any way acceptable, but simply that compared with the horrific accounts of rape, harassment and abuse that have been recounted by survivors for years, it seems odd that the military would react so swiftly to this one in particular.

Opacity on these matters serves dual purposes: it favours the political interests of a ministry that doesn’t want to be saddled by the details of yet another scandal, and it serves whichever narratives interested observers wish to ascribe to these incidents. Indeed, without depending on one’s perspective, the response to the allegation is either a symptom of a panicked military apparatus desperate to show it finally takes misconduct seriously, or an example of how the CAF has tolerated inappropriate sexual behaviour for decades. Information would provide some desperately needed clarity, but here in Canada, you can barely get the weather report on the record.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.