Disclaimer: This story describes details of an alleged sexual assault
The complainant in the sexual assault trial against Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin testified Monday that she woke up to the alleged assault one night in early 1988.
The trial is taking place in a courtroom in Gatineau, Que., on Monday and Tuesday, more than a year after Fortin was charged with one count of sexual assault in August 2021.
Fortin maintains his innocence and his defense attorney said Monday they will vigorously challenge the complainant’s testimony that he assaulted her.
He was abruptly removed from his position as head of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign in May 2021 following an unspecified “military investigation”, and his case was referred to the prosecution service of the Quebec later that month.
At the time of the alleged assault, described as having taken place between January and April 1988, the complainant and Fortin were attending the military college in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, she told the prosecutor of the Crown Diane Legault.
The complainant testified in English that she lived in a barracks with a roommate and that there was a rule that their door had to be left unlocked.
She said she woke up one night shortly after midnight and felt someone grabbed her hand with one of his hands and used it to masturbate. She says she felt another hand on her chest under the sheets.
She said she was lying on her side and froze in panic and shock upon realizing the position she was in. Before doing anything else, she testified, she opened one eye and recognized Fortin leaning over her.
After gesturing to him that she woke up changing her position and walking away, she said she started pushing him and whispered, “Let go of me.” She also whispered her roommate’s name, as she thought she was also in the room and was trying to get her attention. She told the court that after a brief struggle, Fortin backed off, pulled up his pants and left.
When asked why she hadn’t shouted, the complainant sighed and paused for a long time before saying it was an embarrassing situation. She said she knows “this sort of thing has happened to others” in college and “the ramifications of what happens when it’s reported”.
“I’m horrified. I don’t want anyone to rush out and find me in this position. Someone doing this to me, putting me down,” she said, describing her thought process at the time. “I was hoping with (my roommate) there and telling him to stop that that in itself, the fear of that, would be enough for him to leave me alone.”
She testified that after Fortin left, she pulled herself together, got dressed and went to see her boyfriend, who lived in another barracks, and told him what had happened to him and who had done it.
She only filed a formal complaint after the Canadian Armed Forces launched “Operation Honour,” a since-replaced effort to combat what a 2015 report by former Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps described as an endemic culture of sexual misconduct in the military.
The Complainant testified that in 2017 or 2018, she met Fortin again. She said he acted like nothing ever happened between them.
“I couldn’t take it,” she said, adding that there was now a system in place that was “finally supposed to protect her.” “After 34 years, I wasn’t about to be ashamed and embarrassed for something that wasn’t my fault.”
The complainant told the court that she was “100%” sure of the identity of the attacker. Fortin’s attorney, Isabel Schurman, said the defense would vigorously contest that identification.
During his cross-examination, Schurman pointed to inconsistencies in the complainant’s recollection of details. This included the year she said the alleged assault took place, whether it happened before or after midnight, whether she recognized Fortin by his voice, and whether her roommate was present at the time.
The complainant said that despite interviews in which she told authorities that the incident may have taken place in 1989 or 1987, she was still clear about the year of her studies she was undertaking at the time.
She said she knew her roommate was in the room earlier that night and assumed she would be there later, but the roommate later denied witnessing anything.
The defense referenced an interview the complainant gave to an investigator last year, when she suggested she recognized Fortin’s voice and French accent during the incident. But the plaintiff testified Monday that Fortin never spoke during the interaction.
The name of the complainant and details that could identify her are subject to a publication ban.
Fortin wore his military uniform into the courtroom on Monday and watched the plaintiff as she testified, occasionally looking at her clasped hands in her lap.
In addition to the criminal trial, which is being heard by Judge Richard Meredith without a jury, Fortin is challenging his withdrawal from the vaccination campaign in Federal Court.
Fortin accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other senior Liberal government officials of shutting him out of the vaccination campaign for purely political reasons.
While his request for reinstatement was rejected last year, an appeal is due to be heard early next month.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 19, 2022