OTTAWA—The military officer who led Canada’s COVID−19 vaccine distribution campaign has been charged with one count of sexual assault.
Maj.−Gen. Dany Fortin presented himself to police in Gatineau, Que., on Wednesday morning after a warrant for his arrest was issued Monday.
He later told reporters that he does not know the details of the allegation against him, despite repeated requests from his legal team.
“For the past three months, my family and I have been living this nightmare of not knowing the nature of the allegation, not knowing the status of the investigation, not knowing whether or not I’d be charged,” Fortin said.
“My legal team has repeatedly — repeatedly — contacted prosecutors to seek any information with no success. So I’ve been forced to read much about me in media, with no ability to defend my name.”
Fortin’s lawyers have said the only information provided to them is that the charge relates to an alleged incident from 1988.
The senior military officer, who has previously served in Afghanistan and Iraq, described the past three months as the most challenging period of his 36 years in uniform.
“This fight against an invisible foe has been the hardest of my career,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to serve Canadians, to serve my country, as soon as this legal issue is resolved.”
Fortin was abruptly removed from his post at the Public Health Agency of Canada on May 14 after leading the distribution of COVID−19 vaccines across the country.
The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service later referred an allegation of sexual misconduct against him to the Quebec prosecution service to determine whether charges should be laid.
Fortin has asked the Federal Court to review his removal, alleging in a sworn affidavit political interference by the Liberal government. He is asking for reinstatement to his position at PHAC, or a similar post.
The military officer said Wednesday he is paying his own legal costs for the criminal and Federal Court actions.
The government has declined to comment.
One of Fortin’s lawyers has raised questions about the timing of the decision to charge her client, which comes days after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau launched an election.
The Liberals have been criticized for months for not doing more to address sexual misconduct in the Canadian military.
Fortin’s lawyers have argued in Federal Court that the decision to remove their client was unreasonable, lacked procedural fairness and involved improper political interference in the military chain of command by the prime minister, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and clerk of the Privy Council.
The government is required to respond to those allegations on Sept. 17, three days before voters head to the polls.
“The timing of the charge raises questions,” Natalia Rodriguez told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
“We’ll be looking at answering those questions and making sure this is not politically motivated and that it is above board. As Maj.−Gen. Fortin’s lawyers, we have a duty to ensure that there’s been no improper political interference in this case.”
With files from Maan Alhmidi in Gatineau, Que
By Lee Berthiaume