Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, Vice-President of Logistics and Operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks during a technical briefing in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada says he was told in there was a potential “issue” facing the man leading Canada’s vaccine effort about eight weeks before Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin stepped down. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, Vice-President of Logistics and Operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks during a technical briefing in Ottawa, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada says he was told in there was a potential “issue” facing the man leading Canada’s vaccine effort about eight weeks before Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin stepped down. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Public health agency told about ‘issue’ facing Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin in late March

Agency informed there was a sexual misconduct allegation against vaccine rollout chief on May 13

The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada says he was told there was a potential “issue” facing the general leading Canada’s vaccine distribution about eight weeks before he stepped down.

Iain Stewart told the House of Commons health committee Friday that “around about” the third week of March, the deputy minister of defence informed him of a potential problem facing Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin.

But Stewart says he didn’t learn that “issue” was a sexual misconduct allegation until May 13.

“It was just kind of a heads-up, that there was a potential issue,” Stewart said of his first conversation about the matter in March.

On May 13, Stewart was informed there was a sexual misconduct allegation against Fortin and a process was underway and that afternoon he discussed what was happening with Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

Fortin stepped aside from his role at PHAC on May 14 pending the results of a military investigation. The Canadian Forces National Investigation Service has since confirmed it referred its investigation to the Quebec prosecution service to determine whether criminal charges should be laid.

Fortin’s lawyer has said his client was unaware of the details of the allegation until a reporter contacted him on Sunday, and that Fortin categorically denies any wrongdoing.

The investigation is one of many into complaints against senior members of Canada’s military in recent months as the Armed Forces addresses widespread allegations of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behaviour in its ranks.

Stewart’s remarks came under questioning by Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner at the health committee Friday morning. Rempel Garner is concerned that sitting on the situation for almost two months sends a terrible message.

“I’m just kind of flabbergasted that you would know about this in the middle of March and not do anything about it,” she said.

Stewart said he couldn’t be more clear that he did not know the “issue” was an allegation of sexual misconduct.

“There was a potential issue, there was no allegation,” he said. You’re using the word I knew about an allegation. There was an issue and I was aware that there was an issue, but the exact nature was not specified. We did not have an allegation.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has also said he was informed Fortin was under investigation in March and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he knew “weeks ago” that there was something going on.

Rempel Garner wondered why it appears PHAC didn’t do more to prepare for the possible upheaval of losing their vaccine logistics chief.

“Did you do anything to get more information to understand how this might compromise Canada’s vaccine rollout?” she asked.

Stewart says he began thinking about what might happen if Fortin needed to be replaced “but it actually wasn’t clear what we were dealing with.”

“We have a highly effective and well performing team that involves over 200 people during the vaccine rollout and we have a variety of executives leading that team. So the vital mandate of the vaccine rollout was taken extremely seriously by this organization. At that stage the potential issue was not clear what it was, and nor is it clear what the repercussions were going to be.”

Fortin is still an active member of the military but was named vice-president of logistics and operations at PHAC on Nov. 27, to oversee the federal government’s plan to get millions of doses of vaccines into Canada and distributed to provinces and territories.

On May 17, the federal government named Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie to replace Fortin. Brodie was assigned to assist Fortin as one of two second-in-commands on the vaccine rollout, but left the team briefly in February. She said Thursday she was very happy to be back with the team again.

On Friday, Liberal members of a defence committee examining an allegation against former chief of the defence staff Jonathan Vance ran out the clock before a vote could be held on a Conservative motion to call Sajjan’s former chief of staff.

Tory defence critic James Bezan first put forward a motion Tuesday to summon Zita Astravas, but updated it Friday to also call on Sajjan and former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne to reappear in front of the committee before next Thursday.

He also withdrew a request to have the committee examine the government’s handling of the allegation against Fortin, a proposal that was already defeated by members earlier this week.

Bloc Québécois MP Xavier Barsalou-Duval indicated he would support Bezan’s motion Friday with an amendment that he said would help ensure a report is tabled in Parliament soon.

But the Liberal members of the committee filibustered the meeting, a tactic they also used on Tuesday, before a vote could be held and the meeting was suspended.

The House of Commons defence committee has been specifically drilling into why the government didn’t do more after Walbourne flagged an allegation involving Vance to Sajjan in March 2018.

The nature of the complaint reported by Walbourne has not been confirmed, but Global has reported that it involves a lewd email Vance allegedly sent to a service member he significantly outranked in 2012, before he became commander of Canada’s military.

Vance, who stepped down as chief of the defence staff in January and retired from the military in April, has not responded to requests for comment from The Canadian Press, but Global has reported he denies any wrongdoing.

—Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

RELATED: Investigation into military officer overseeing vaccines referred to Quebec prosecutor

CoronavirusFederal PoliticsMilitary

Just Posted

Kitimat’s Water Quality Advisory, which has been in place for just over a week, has been lifted. (Black Press file photo)
Water Quality Advisory in Kitimat lifted

The district has been under a Water Quality Advisory since June 2

On June 16 at 6 p.m., the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a public presentation and discussion with Happipad, a social enterprise, to talk about solutions for affordable housing Kitimat. (Happipad photo)
Affordable housing to be focus of Kitimat Chamber of Commerce meeting

Figures indicate the average Kitimat household needs to make more than $92,000 a year

(District of Kitimat logo)
Hirsch Creek Bridge restricted to single lane traffic

The district is restricting the bridge traffic to legal highway loads only

Artist’s illustration of the proposed Kitimat LNG facility at Bish Cove near Kitimat. (Kitimat LNG illustration)
Haisla Nation surprised by Woodside pull out from Kitimat LNG project

Haisla Nation council states its main focus is now on developing the Haisla-led Cedar LNG project

(Northern Health logo)
Pop-up vaccine clinic tomorrow at the Save-on-Foods parking lot in Kitimat

The clinic will be this Friday, June 11 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

Most Read