Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday his office was alerted weeks ago about the misconduct allegation against the former head of Canada’s vaccine rollout but said he was not aware of details.
Mr. Trudeau’s comments mark the first time the Prime Minister has commented directly on the abrupt Friday departure of Major-General Dany Fortin from his critical role in overseeing logistics and operations as part of a deployment with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
On Friday, the Department of National Defence announced through an evening news release that Maj.-Gen. Fortin was the subject of a military investigation and would no longer be serving in this capacity. Maj.-Gen. Fortin’s lawyer, Commander Mark Letourneau, said his client “vigorously and categorically” denies the allegation.
“In situations like this, those authorities can make a determination to inform me and my office which they did in this case a number of weeks ago,” Mr. Trudeau said. “I didn’t receive details of what is being alleged.”
PHAC announced Monday that Brigadier-General Krista Brodie will assume Maj.-Gen. Fortin’s former position. The Prime Minister said that Brig.-Gen. Brodie has already worked with a military team responsible for getting millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Canadians.
He also said it would not be appropriate to comment on the military investigation of Maj.-Gen. Fortin and that authorities are reviewing the matter. The investigation needs to be complete, rigorous and fair, Mr. Trudeau added.
In response to Mr. Trudeau’s comments, NDP defence critic Randall Garrison questioned Tuesday why it took so long for Maj.-Gen. Fortin to be removed from his role if allegations against him were known for weeks. He also said the Prime Minister’s comments demonstrate a need for transparency and answers for service members.
Conservative defence critic James Bezan said now that the Prime Minister has admitted he was aware of the investigation into the conduct of Maj.-Gen. Fortin for weeks that this further calls into question the claim that “Justin Trudeau did not know of the allegation against General Vance in 2018.”
In recent weeks, the Liberal government has faced sustained political pressure from opposition parties over how it handled allegations involving former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance three years ago.
In March, former military watchdog Gary Walbourne told the House of Commons defence committee that he presented Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan with evidence about Mr. Vance’s conduct but that the minister declined to see the information. Mr. Sajjan said he instead told his then chief of staff, Zita Astravas, who informed the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The PMO then asked the Privy Council Office to probe further but said it was not able to obtain further information.
Mr. Bezan tabled a motion at defence committee on Tuesday to seek additional testimony, including from Ms. Astravas and to have Mr. Sajjan and Mr. Walbourne appear again. His proposal also included a call for a committee study be expanded to include matters related to the allegations against Maj.-Gen. Fortin.
Liberals on the committee expressed concern about elongating the study, citing a need to produce a report on addressing the issue of sexual misconduct in the military. They also stressed the need for due process for Maj.-Gen. Fortin now that an investigation is under way.
“I’m not convinced that the opposition wants this report to see the light of day,” said Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld, the parliamentary secretary to the Defence Minister.
“Every time we get to a point where we can move forward as a committee, there’s yet another motion, yet another series of witnesses to call.”
Mr. Bezan said the Liberals filibustered at committee and are “once again continuing their cover-up of sexual misconduct in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) by blocking key witnesses from testifying at the defence committee.”
Mr. Trudeau said Tuesday there is a pattern and a culture in the military that has gone on for far too long, which is why the government is looking to strengthen the process to ensure survivors feel safe to come forward.
“It is really, really important that anyone who serves feels supported and listened to as they come forward to share actions, experiences, inappropriate things that happened to them over the course of their career,” Mr. Trudeau said.
In late April, the federal government announced that former Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour will examine sexual harassment and misconduct in the military, charting a path for how the CAF could set up an independent reporting system.
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