Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Liberals silent on nature of Fortin probe or who will replace him on vaccine campaign

OTTAWA — The Liberal government is scrambling to reassure Canadians that the COVID-19 vaccination campaign will not be hurt by Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin’s sudden departure, but are remaining tight-lipped over why he has been sidelined and who will replace him.

The Department of National Defence issued a terse three-line statement on Friday evening that Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin was leaving his role as head of the government’s vaccine distribution efforts because of an unspecified “military investigation.”

Some experts have expressed worry over the lack of information about the nature of the investigation given the importance of Fortin’s role and recent concerns about a lack of transparency and accountability from the military.

They have also questioned why it is taking so long for the government to identify a replacement to take over leadership of the vaccination rollout.

The Canadian Press has confirmed via a source who was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly that the investigation relates to an allegation of sexual misconduct.

CTV News reported on Sunday that Fortin is being investigated for having allegedly exposed himself to a woman while he was an officer cadet at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean, Que., in 1989.

Fortin declined to comment in an email to The Canadian Press and CTV quoted his lawyer as saying the general “completely denies” any wrongdoing.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole on Monday called on the government to provide Canadians with more information, and suggested its failure to do so represented a threat to public confidence in the military and the vaccine campaign.

“Justin Trudeau must be transparent with Canadians, who deserve confidence in our system, and that starts with providing information,” O’Toole said in a statement.

“The government released a statement late Friday announcing that Maj.-Gen. Fortin would no longer be in charge of the vaccine rollout while an investigation was ongoing, but have yet to confirm the nature of the investigation.”

O’Toole also demanded the government announce who will be taking over from Fortin, who was appointed to the Public Health Agency of Canada in November to manage the vaccination campaign after overseeing the NATO training mission in Iraq.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a brief public appearance on Monday to announce federal funding for the hiring of auditors for home-energy retrofits, but he did not stick around to take any questions.

It instead fell to Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough to answer questions about Fortin’s removal and what it would mean for the vaccination campaign.

The ministers played down any significant impact on the campaign, suggesting it is well underway and that other Canadian Armed Forces members are continuing to play an important role in the effort.

But both remained otherwise mum on the nature of the investigation, when the government first learned about it, and who will be tapped to replace Fortin.

“I don’t have the exact name details of the individual that will be replacing, either in the interim or permanently, Maj.-Gen. Fortin,” Qualtrough said.

“But the mission is ongoing. We keep delivering, we are keeping the operation going … so ultimately, at the end of the day, Canadians get the vaccines that we have to deliver to them.”

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