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

Outdoor vendors at the Cloverdale Flea Market are seen in this bird’s eye view image from the flea market’s Facebook page.
Cloverdale Flea Market to reopen

Market to open June 20 after being closed since Nov. 2020

Rahim Manji owns and operates the Hollywood 3 Cinemas in Newton, along with the Caprice in South Surrey, a theatre in Duncan and another in Pitt Meadows. “I think right now it feels different than last June, it just does,” Manji said. “I’m a lot more optimistic, with more people calling, more people out and getting vaccinated, so I think the comfort level is a lot better.” (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Surrey movie theatre operators reopen and rejoice, even with 50-max capacity

‘We have been one of the hardest-hit industries’

(Delta Police Department photo)
Delta police searching for Surrey woman missing at Centennial Beach

Wenyan Lan, 54, reported missing when she didn’t come home from a crabbing/clam digging trip June 14

Popular event/party band March Hare will appear in an online streamed performance Friday (June 18) featuring their salute to music of the `60s and `70s as part of BEC Entertainment’s Grand Summer Virtual Concert series. (Contributed photo)
White Rock-based BEC Entertainment continues Friday-night virtual concerts

March Hare and California Surf Incorporated featured

Ian MacDonald, spokesman for Surrey Police Service. (Submitted photo)
Surrey Police Service launches public consultation campaign

This is to help the SPS form its first strategic plan

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

(pixabay file shot)
B.C. ombudsperson labels youth confinement in jail ‘unsafe,’ calls for changes

Review states a maximum of 22 hours for youth, aged 12 from to 17, to be placed in solitary

Eleonore Alamillo-Laberge, 6, reads a book in Ottawa on Monday, June 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Parents will need to fight ‘COVID learning slump’ over summer: B.C. literacy experts

Parents who play an active role in educating their children this summer can reverse the slump by nearly 80%, says Janet Mort

The border crossing on Highway 11 in Abbotsford heading south (file)
Western premiers call for clarity, timelines on international travel, reopening rules

Trudeau has called Thursday meeting, premiers say they expect to leave that meeting with a plan

The B.C. government’s vaccine booking website is busy processing second-dose appointments, with more than 76 per cent of adults having received a first dose. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations stable for Tuesday

108 new confirmed cases, 139 in hospital, 39 in intensive care

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers found that 56% of foundations and eye products contain high levels of fluorine

Most Read