Dani Fortin sues the federal government and Trudeau for $6 million
major gen. Dani Fortin, a high-ranking military officer who was acquitted of sexual assault charges late last year, has filed a $6 million lawsuit against the Canadian government.
Fortin, who was fired as head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination program in early 2021, named 16 senior officials in a broad lawsuit, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chief of Defense Staff General F. Wayne Eyre, former Secretary of Defense Harjit Sajjan and former health minister Patty Hajdu.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday in Ontario Supreme Court, accuses officials of “reprehensible, extreme, egregious and high-handed” behavior and seeks $5 million in general damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
The document claims that Fortin suffered losses due to libel and misconduct in public service. He also accuses officials of sloppy investigation, improper public disclosure of private facts, breach of trust, and conspiracy to cause damage.
“He was not given due process,” Fortin’s attorney, Thomas Conway, said in an interview.
“It caused him the kind of grief that you would expect anyone to experience when faced with the kind of accusations they have had to face in public.”
Fortin was removed from his position as head of the government’s COVID-19 Vaccine Introduction Office in May 2021, pending an investigation into a historic allegation related to his 1988 military college stint.
In August 2021, he was charged with sexual assault, and last December the Quebec Supreme Court acquitted the charge.
The lawsuit alleges that the investigation was conducted with gross negligence and that there were no grounds for a criminal case at all. He blames officials for firing Fortin from his position for political reasons.
“I would say that in all these allegations of sexual harassment, the Canadian Forces felt a certain chill,” Conway said.
“And we are by no means trying to simplify this issue. In no case. This is a serious question. However, unfortunately, everyone seems to have dropped the notion that anyone is entitled to…a fair trial.”
He added that despite Fortin’s acquittal, there was a stain on his reputation.
“This stain, this damage will never be repaired unless he tries to make amends for what happened in court, in civil proceedings,” Conway said.
The military formally cleared Fortin of misconduct regarding the balance of probabilities in January and said they would reassign him to a new role. But the lawsuit alleges that the Canadian Forces are either refusing or unreasonably delaying his reintegration.
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants, whom he calls “politicians,” “made it clear” to the military leadership that Fortin could not return to his normal duties, “tarnished” his reputation within the military itself, and created a climate in which someone who “did nothing wrong” cannot move up the career ladder if someone else is making accusations.
The Department of Defense remains committed to reassigning Fortin to “appropriate duties consistent with his rank and experience,” spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said in a statement.
“We will consider the claim and we will not give additional comments for now,” she said.
The Prime Minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A defense statement was not filed in response to the allegations in the lawsuit.
A separate case is still pending in the Federal Court of Appeals, in which Fortin is appealing the Federal Court’s decision that denied his reinstatement request last year.
In this matter, Fortin claimed that he was removed from his position as vaccinator due to political interference and without due process of law. The government denied these claims. A spokesman for Fortin said no date has been set for further proceedings.
Fortin, who was previously commander of the NATO training mission in Iraq and commander of the 1st Canadian Division, also filed a complaint with the Military Police Complaints Commission following his acquittal.
Asked if Fortin had sought a settlement with the government prior to filing the lawsuit, Conway said only that Fortin was not interested in lengthy litigation with his former colleagues and with the institution he has been with for over 30 years.
Trust me, that’s the last thing he wanted to do.
The defendants named in the Fortin lawsuit include:
— Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
— Gen. Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defense Staff
— Harjit Sajan, former Minister of Defense and current Minister of International Development.
— Patty Hajdu, former Minister of Health and current Minister of Indigenous Affairs.
— Janice Sharett, Clerk of the Office of the Privy Council.
— Ian Stewart, former head of the Public Health Agency of Canada and current president of the National Research Council.
— Jody Thomas, former Deputy Secretary of National Defense and Trudeau’s current National Security Adviser.
– lieutenant colonel Eric Leblanc, Commander, National Investigation Service, Canadian Forces
– Ret. Colonel Bruce McGregor, former Chief of the Military Prosecutor’s Office.
– Brig.-gen. Simon Trudeau, Military Provost
– Brigadier General Dirald Cross, retired, who supervised the complainant in the sexual assault case.
— Laurie-Anne Kempton, Assistant Undersecretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Defense.
— George Young, Sajan’s then Chief of Staff and current Acting Chief of Staff to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
– Warrant Officer Denise Hachi, Military Police Investigator.
– Brig.-gen. Alan Mulavishin, Air’s then Chief of Staff and now Deputy Executive Director of the Veterans House.
– The Attorney General of Canada, who is named in the lawsuit as a defendant in a lawsuit on behalf of the Canadian Forces, the Department of National Defence, the Department of Health, the Prime Minister’s Office, the Office of the Privy Council and the public. Health Agency of Canada.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 15, 2023.