The former head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout ‘vigorously’ denies the allegation of sexual misconduct that appears to have prompted a military investigation and the decision for him to step back from the role, his lawyer says.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Cmdr. Mark Létourneau with the military’s Defence Counsel Services told Global News he is representing Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin and that Fortin had no idea what the allegation was against him until a journalist asked him about it on Sunday.
“This took him completely by surprise. He vigorously and categorically denies this allegation,” said Létourneau in an email.
The Department of National Defence announced on Friday evening Fortin was stepping aside from his role as head of Canada’s vaccine rollout effort amid a military investigation.
The details of that investigation were not shared but Global News has since confirmed that it relates to an allegation of sexual misconduct, and that the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is handling the probe.
Létourneau said Fortin has not been informed of any charge against him and the details of the allegation came to him from a journalist with CTV News on Sunday.
The CTV report cited sources who described the allegation as a formal complaint about a “historical sexual assault” that allegedly took place in early 1989 when Fortin was a student at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean. He is alleged to have exposed himself before a woman.
“It’s really out of the blue,” Létourneau said, describing it as “bizarre” not to know where the complaint was coming from, other than what has been reported in media.
The investigation into Fortin comes as Canada is beginning a massive push to get coronavirus vaccines into arms.
Two federal cabinet ministers said on Monday the probe will not derail that effort.
“I can assure Canadians that it won’t have any impact in terms of the operational impact,” said Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough. “When someone steps aside, there’s been people training to keep the mission going.
“I have every confidence that Canadians will not feel any impact.”
Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan offered similar confidence that the vaccine rollout won’t be impacted, saying he has “every confidence” there are measures in place to make sure the logistics of the rollout continue smoothly.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had been among those listed as taking part in an announcement with a media availability in a press release from Natural Resources Canada, and briefly spoke at the event but did not participate in the questions portion with journalists.
A government official told Global News that was a “miscommunication” by the department, and he had only been scheduled to attend as a photo opportunity.
Fortin was named vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada in November 2020 and tasked with overseeing logistical planning for the vaccine rollout.
He also ran the National Operations Centre.
Prior to taking on the role, he was chief of staff at the Canadian Joint Operations Command and from November 2018 to the fall of 2019, he held command of the NATO mission in Iraq.
It remains unclear who will replace him as military head of the vaccine rollout.
Qualtrough told journalists she is not aware of who might replace Fortin.
Canada is in the midst of a major ramp-up of vaccine deliveries and distribution efforts, with millions of doses due to come into the country in May and June to speed up vaccination.
A total of 4.5 million doses are arriving in the coming days from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Provinces are opening up eligibility criteria for vaccines and roughly 40 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with that number rising to 50 per cent of adults in Ontario over the age of 18 as of last week.
Trudeau has said some restrictions could lift for a “one-dose summer” if 75 per cent of Canadians get vaccinated, with 20 per cent receiving their second doses.
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