Charged with sexual assault, former head of vaccine rollout says he lost his job to 'political calculation'

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander who once led Canada's vaccine rollout, was charged today with one count of sexual assault relating to an incident alleged to have happened decades ago.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin says he's been kept in the dark about the nature of the case against him

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin speaks Wednesday to reporters outside the Gatineau, Que., police station, where he was charged with one count of sexual assault relating to an incident alleged to have happened decades ago. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander who once led Canada's vaccine rollout, was charged today with one count of sexual assault relating to an incident alleged to have happened over three decades ago.

He was told the charge was being laid and that an arrest warrant had been issued for him on Monday, one day after the Liberal government called the federal election — timing that one member of his legal team said deserves closer scrutiny.

In a further political twist, the case will arrive in court for its first hearing on Sept. 20 — the day Canadians line up to vote.

Speaking to reporters outside the Gatineau, Que. police station where he was charged, an emotional Fortin said today he's been living through a "nightmare." He said his lawyers know little about the case against him and the nature of any evidence the police may have to support the charge.

"I've been forced to read much about me in the media with no ability or outlet to defend my name," Fortin said.

"For the past three months, my family and I have been living this nightmare of not knowing, not knowing the nature of the allegation, the status of the investigation and not knowing if I would be charged."

None of the court documents filed on Wednesday spell out precisely what Fortin is alleged to have done.

WATCH: Ex-head of Canada's vaccine rollout speaks publicly for first time on sexual assault charge

Ex-head of Canada’s vaccine rollout speaks publicly for first time on sexual assault charge

2 years ago
Duration 3:51
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin speaks to media outside a police station in Gatineau regarding a sexual assault charge he faces. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Fortin said he believes he's the victim of "political" calculus and suggested he was pushed out of his job by Health Minister Patty Hajdu to deflect criticism of the government's handling of past sexual misconduct incidents in the Canadian Armed Forces.

"The decision to remove me from my position was part of a political calculation," he added in French, saying he was told by a military official the decision to fire him from his prominent position leading vaccine logistics was driven by the political needs of the governing Liberals.

"I've had the honour and privilege of serving Canadians for over 36 years in some challenging circumstances and places, including combat settings. This fight against an invisible foe has been the hardest of my career. I look forward to continuing to serve my country as soon as this is resolved."

The charge is believed to stem from an incident alleged to have taken place sometime between Jan. 1 and April 30 of 1988, according to his legal team.

Earlier this year, Fortin launched a legal challenge of his dismissal from the vaccine rollout. He has argued that his removal did not respect due process.

A two-day federal court hearing on Fortin's challenge is scheduled for Sept. 28 and 29.

"As the matter is moving through the legal process, it would be inappropriate for us to provide any further comment," a spokesperson for National Defence wrote Wednesday evening.

Fortin's lawyer questions timing

A lawyer with the legal team handling the criminal case declined to comment outside of the police station, but one of Fortin's lawyers involved in the Federal Court challenge questioned the timing of the charge.

Natalia Rodriguez said the investigation has spanned many months and Quebec prosecutors have had the file in their hands for a while.

"So it does raise the issue and raises the question as to why they're laying the charge now," she said. 

"Why not three or four weeks? Why not four weeks from today? Why is it that the day after the election is called?" Rodriguez added, referring to the day Fortin was notified of the charge.

She was careful to note that there is no evidence of political interference in the case, but believes questions should be asked about the timing.

The charge against Fortin is the latest development in an ongoing sexual misconduct crisis that has engulfed the Canadian military.

Jonathan Vance, Canada's former chief of the defence staff, is facing a charge of obstruction of justice related to an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.

Vance's replacement, Admiral Art McDonald, has been placed on administrative leave following an investigation into separate sexual misconduct allegations, which ended without any charges. The federal government has said it is still reviewing McDonald's situation.

With files from the CBC's Ashley Burke