Fortin’s lawyers give Crown documents in military officer’s sex assault case

Fortin's lawyers give Crown documents in military officer's sex assault case
Government of Canada

A lawyer for Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin revealed in court on Monday that the senior military officer’s legal team has given the Crown documents they believe are pertinent to their client’s sexual assault case.

Lawyer Philippe Morneau did not reveal the nature of those documents as he appeared in a courtroom in Gatineau, Que., on behalf of the former head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution campaign, who was charged last month.

“Without going into too much detail, to avoid jeopardizing the case, we are of the opinion the documentation we’ve provided today, with other documents to come, are pertinent,” Morneau told the court in French.

Crown prosecutor Diane Legault said she would need to consult the documents, which she had not yet received. The case is scheduled to return to court on Nov. 5.

Fortin, who was not on hand for Monday’s court proceedings, was abruptly removed from his position leading the federal government’s vaccine rollout effort in May and charged by Gatineau police on Aug. 18 with one count of sexual assault.

Court documents indicate the alleged assault occurred in early 1988.

Fortin has denied any wrongdoing and his criminal defence is being led by Montreal lawyer Isabel Schurman, who previously represented Just for Laughs founder Gilbert Rozon, who was found not guilty of rape and indecent assault last December.

The senior military officer has also asked a Federal Court judge to overturn the Trudeau government’s decision to remove him from his position at the Public Health Agency of Canada, where he had led Canada’s vaccine distribution campaign since November.

Fortin’s lawyers allege the decision to remove him from the vaccine post was unreasonable, lacked procedural fairness and involved Liberal government interference in the military chain of command.

The latter allegation is based on what they say is evidence suggesting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan were involved to varying degrees in the decision.

They have been arguing that only acting defence chief Gen. Wayne Eyre had the power under the National Defence Act to remove their client from the vaccine campaign as he was still a serving member of the Canadian military while working at PHAC.

Government lawyers have argued the lawsuit is moot because the PHAC post no longer exists.

In their latest submission on Friday, the government’s lawyers also said Fortin failed to exhaust the remedies available to him through the military grievance process and, in any event, the decision to cancel his temporary posting “was reasonable and fair.”

Eyre considered all relevant factors, including the risk to workplace safety, Fortin’s strong desire to continue in his role and the historical nature of the allegation against him, the filing added.

The Federal Court is scheduled to hear arguments from both sides starting Sept. 28.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.

— With files from Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa and Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal.

Graham CoxGraham Cox

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