Trudeau says he was informed of Fortin investigation 'a number of weeks ago'

The mystery over who in the Liberal government knew what about an allegation of misconduct against Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin deepened today when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that he learned about the investigation several weeks ago.

Fortin, Canada's former vaccine campaign lead, left post Friday after sexual misconduct allegation was raised

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin respond to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. Fortin, Canada's former vaccine campaign lead, left the post Friday after an allegation of sexual misconduct was raised. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The mystery over who in the Liberal government knew what about an allegation of misconduct against Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin deepened today when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that he learned about the investigation several weeks ago.

Fortin left his post as head of Canada's vaccine logistics on Friday and the Department of National Defence issued a terse, three-line statement saying he was under investigation.

Sources told CBC News that night that a sexual misconduct allegation against Fortin had been raised and that it predated the start of Operation Honour in 2015 — the military's now-defunct campaign to stamp out inappropriate behaviour in the ranks.

The confidential sources, who could not speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the file, would not specify the nature of the allegation. On Sunday, however, CTV News reported that the allegation involved a claim of indecent exposure more than 30 years old, dating from when Fortin attended the Royal Military College in St-Jean, Quebec.

Trudeau said Tuesday he learned about the Fortin investigation "a number of weeks ago" but wasn't given the details of the allegation.

WATCH: Trudeau says he was informed of Fortin investigation 'a few weeks ago':

Trudeau admits he knew about Fortin investigation, says change won’t impact vaccine rollout

2 years ago
Duration 2:02
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted he knew for weeks about an investigation into Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, but the government insists Fortin’s departure won’t impact the increased pace of Canada’s vaccine rollout.

"I can highlight that this is a matter being followed up on by the military leadership and the appropriate authorities, that they made decisions along the way," Trudeau said during his first media availability since the news first broke.

"However, because, as is appropriate, I didn't receive details of what is being alleged and what's going on in terms of the investigation, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that investigation."

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan found out around the same time as the prime minister, his office said today.

"The Acting Chief of Defence Staff and the Deputy Minister of National Defence informed Minister Sajjan of an ongoing CFNIS investigation involving Maj-Gen Fortin in March," said Daniel Minden, a spokesperson for the minister.

"The Minister asked that the complainant receive any necessary support and stated that the investigation must take its due course."

Fortin's lawyer, Cmdr. Marc Létourneau, said his client only found out about the specifics of the allegation on the weekend and will fight the claim.

"It is a news reporter who informed Major-General Fortin of the allegation against him Sunday, May 16," Letourneau said in a written statement.

"This took him completely by surprise. He vigorously and categorically denies this allegation."

A senior government official, speaking on background Tuesday, told CBC News the acting top military commander, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, was first briefed on the investigation into Fortin in mid-March but was not told specifics.

After weighing the risks, Eyre made a command decision to keep Fortin in his role, said the confidential source, who was not authorized to speak publicly because of the sensitivity of the file.

Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre listens to speakers during a change of command parade for the Canadian Army on Parliament Hill Tuesday, August 20, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Senior officials in the Prime Minister's Office were told of the investigation and that Fortin was staying in his role for the time being, said the source.

The investigation, the source said, is now in its final stages and a determination on what direction the case will take is apparently at hand. That, said the source, seems to have prompted Fortin's sudden departure on Friday.

The fact the prime minister knew of the Fortin probe weeks ago — and that Fortin was allowed to continue in his position while under investigation — is a political bonanza for opposition parties now demanding the re-opening of parliamentary hearings into the Liberal government's handling of the military sexual misconduct crisis.

The Conservatives tabled a motion calling for a former senior adviser to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to be served with a summons to testify.

Conservatives push to re-open committee probe

They also want to call Sajjan to sit side-by-side with former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne before the committee — to reconcile their conflicting accounts of a meeting three years ago, when the ombudsman warned of an informal allegation of misconduct against the then-chief of the defence staff, retired general Jonathan Vance.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said the Liberals "will go to great lengths to cover up information" about the misconduct crisis.

"This further calls into question this claim that Justin Trudeau did not know of the allegation against Gen. Vance in 2018," said Bezan, who said he wants the House of Commons defence committee's investigation reopened to consider how Fortin's case was handled.

The committee was supposed to move on at this point and begin writing a report on what it had learned over the weeks of hearings, which began when allegations were first raised against Vance in published reports.

Liberal MPs on the committee pushed back against the bid to re-open the committee's investigation.

"The Conservatives chose to use this meeting to bring forward a motion that really seeks to do nothing more but politicize this issue further and play further political games with an issue that deserves substantive recommendations, with substantive work by thoughtful MPs who actually care about solving the problem of sexual assault sexual harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces," said Liberal MP Yvan Baker. "That's what this should be about."

Baker said the motion is "about trying to call more and more witnesses to answer the questions that have already been answered countless times before this committee."

The committee eventually voted not to expand its investigation to include Fortin, but debated well into Tuesday night about other aspects of the Conservative motion.