Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the senior military commander who once led Canada’s vaccine rollout, is suing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the federal government and top military and political figures for more than $6 million in damages months after he was acquitted of sexual assault.
A statement of claim filed Wednesday by Fortin’s legal team alleges defamation, misfeasance in public office, conspiracy and negligent investigation.
“The defendants’ conduct was reprehensible, extreme, flagrant and high-handed,” the lawsuit alleges. “It constituted a marked departure from ordinary standards of decent behaviour.”
The lawsuit against the government and more than two dozen individuals claims “political actors acting in concert and consultation with each other” made a decision to terminate Fortin’s secondment to the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2021 during an investigation into the sexual assault claim.
The military’s investigation in 2021 looked into a claim that Fortin sexually assaulted a woman more than 30 years ago, when he was a student at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean.
A Quebec judge acquitted Fortin in civil court in December. The judge said he believed the victim was sexually assaulted but wasn’t convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that her attacker was Fortin.
The new lawsuit alleges the military investigation was rushed, was driven by tunnel vision and failed to interview Fortin “sufficiently.”
“At all material times, the investigation was tainted by considerations of political expediency, by unfairness and by lack of due process,” the suit alleges. “Carried out under rushed, politically sensitive circumstances, the die was cast before the investigation was fully and competently completed.”
Sixteen defendants listed
The defendants in the lawsuit include a long list of individuals involved in handling his case in 2021. They include Clerk of the Privy Council Janice Charette, then-president of the Public Health Agency of Canada Iain Stewart, then-minister of health Patty Hajdu and then-minister of defence Harjit Sajjan, along with two members of Sajjan’s staff — his then-deputy Jody Thomas and George Young, his chief of staff at the time.
Fortin is also suing the military’s chief of the defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, military police investigator Warrant Officer Denise Hachey and her commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Leblanc.
The lawsuit alleges that public statements made in 2021 by Sajjan were defamatory and were used to undermine Fortin’s reputation.
Sajjan released a statement in 2021 saying he had been advised that Fortin had stepped aside, and that he was committed to building an inclusive culture in the military where everyone is treated with “dignity and respect.”
The lawsuit alleges Sajjan’s statements suggested that there was “sufficient evidence that warranted immediate termination of his secondment” and that he had not been acting in a manner that treated everyone with “dignity and respect.”
Fortin is one of an unprecedented number of current and former senior Canadian military leaders who since 2021 have been sidelined, investigated or forced into retirement from some of the most powerful and prestigious posts in the defence establishment due to allegations of sexual misconduct.
‘CAF itself will not accept his return’
The statement of claim says Fortin has been paid but has not been assigned work since 2021 and the Canadian Armed Forces is refusing to re-integrate him and assign him work since the acquittal — despite the fact that the military itself concluded that, based on the balance of probabilities, Fortin did not engage in sexual misconduct.
“The reality is that MGen Fortin’s reputation has been so tarnished by the defendants’ conduct that the CAF itself will not accept his return,” the lawsuit alleges.
None of the allegations contained in the statement of claim have been proven in court.
After the military decided Fortin would not face any administrative action in January, the alleged victim — whose identity is protected under a publication ban — said “there are no words” to describe her “disappointment.”
Fortin has been at home on paid leave since DND issued a public statement in 2021 saying he was leaving his post and his future would be decided by the acting chief of the defence staff.
He has also challenged the government in Federal Court in an attempt to get his job back, arguing the decision to publicly terminate his secondment was unfair and politically motivated. The government has denied that claim. The Federal Court rejected Fortin’s case in 2021 and said the military grievance process was the appropriate venue to address his claim.
Fortin is appealing that decision and is seeking a job commensurate with his rank and experience. A date for the hearing has not yet been set.
Fortin also filed an official complaint in January with the Military Police Complaints Commission.
A spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said it is reviewing the statement of claim but won’t be commenting further at this time.