The military police watchdog is launching an investigation into how investigators handled a landmark sexual assault allegation against a senior officer who was a central figure in Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
A Quebec court acquitted the Major General. Dany Fortin last December on a sexual assault charge, after military police investigated the 1988 allegation and then turned the case over to provincial prosecutors.
Fortin claims that 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 investigating how the military police handled the case, saying Fortin’s claims about the involvement of senior military officers make it a matter of public interest.
The commission wrote a letter to Fortin, which he posted online, saying it had sought the full file of the military police investigation in late January. The letter said the military only responded two months later with a synopsis document “of a few pages, containing only a summary of the investigation.”
In a written statement delivered through his lawyer, Fortin said the decision was “shocking and unacceptable” and that he welcomed 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 his position pending an investigation.
A Quebec civilian judge acquitted him, saying the whistleblower was likely sexually assaulted, but the Crown had not proven that Fortin was the assailant, and the Canadian Armed Forces later cleared him of misconduct.
Fortin accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other senior members of the government of criticizing him for purely political reasons at a time when Liberals were accused of not doing enough to tackle sexual misconduct in the military.
He has demanded that the military reinstate him to an equivalent post.
The complaints commission says its inquiry will address whether “sexual assault investigations will be tainted, knowingly or unknowingly, by bias against victims or suspects” as a result of public and media scrutiny.
As of Tuesday, the commission said it was still waiting for the full investigation file.
The Canadian military did not explain why that was the case, saying it would only comment once the commission completes its investigation.
“There will be no further comment until the Office of the (Canadian Forces Provost Marshal) has had an opportunity to review the MPCC’s findings and recommendations,” the lieutenant commander wrote. Jamie Bresolin in an email.
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 the court in September that the whistleblower, 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 repercussions on her career.
The judge said the whistleblower had credible reasons for not reporting the incident for so many years, given the shortcomings in the way the military has handled such allegations.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 23, 2023.