Former vaccine boss sues to get job back, blames Justin Trudeau and top ministers for ‘improper’ removal’

OTTAWA—Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin is challenging his removal as head of Canada’s vaccine rollout in an explosive judicial application, saying there was “improper political interference” by two ministers, the prime minister and the country’s top civil servant, according to new court documents.Fortin is asking for judicial review at the Federal Court of Canada, and is seeking to be reinstated as the lead of vaccine rollout at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) or an equal posting that someone of his rank as a two-star general should have, calling the original decision unreasonable, arbitrary, unfair and a violation of his and the complainant’s rights.Fortin says the decision to push him out — and public pronouncements that signalled it was a case of improper sexual misconduct — caused “significant reputational harm (…) whether or not they can be disproven or are found to be frivolous or unsubstantiated.”The public comments by cabinet members not only interfered with matters that were properly only for the military chain of command, but also violated his right “not to have personal information disclosed” under the privacy act, and the complainant’s desire for the investigation to be kept confidential,” and could potentially compromise the investigation, says the application to have the decision overturned.The notice of application filed Monday says Fortin has not been reassigned within the military since being ousted from his posting at the vaccine operation on May 13, a decision that was made public on May 14.But it lays out a detailed timeline of Fortin’s sacking from PHAC that had previously been kept under wraps.Last month, military investigators referred an allegation of sexual misconduct against Fortin to the Quebec prosecution service, which has the power to decide whether or not any criminal charge will be laid in relation to a historical complaint that occurred in Quebec more than three decades ago.The new documents do not lay out specifics of the complaint, but the allegation has been reported to relate to an incident that happened while Fortin was a student at the Royal Military College at St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.Fortin, through his former military lawyer, categorically denied any allegation. In a notice of application to have the decision quashed or referred back to Lieut.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of defence staff, Fortin suggests that he held Eyre’s confidence until the decision was made by political actors to boot him.Fortin had been assigned on Nov. 23 to PHAC to co-ordinate the national vaccination rollout — a posting that was extended in late February to Oct. 31, just weeks before the complaint was first raised to his military boss — a decision that was approved by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan at Eyre’s request, according to the document.But on March 17, Fortin met with Eyre who said he’d just learned an investigation had been launched by military police into an allegation of “sexual misconduct.”The document says Fortin, who commanded the NATO mission in Iraq between 2018 and 2019, was told by Eyre that he wanted Fortin “to hear it from him and not the press.”The document goes on to say Fortin “was not given any information on the allegations at this time.” Eyre is said to have offered Fortin the opportunity to take time off, which Fortin declined, indicating he wanted to continue working on the vaccine distribution.Eyre phoned Fortin later the same evening to say the privy council office — the prime minister’s department — was informed of the investigation. Eyre, the document says, assured Fortin he would continue to advocate for “due process, the presumption of innocence” and that he be allowed to stay in the job.The following morning, March 18, Fortin himself notified Iain Stewart, the president of PHAC, of the investigation.Stewart assured him in a meeting later that afternoon “it was business as usual” while the investigation ran its course, and “reiterated that MGen Fortin was entitled to due process and that he was presumed innocent.”Stewart told Fortin “that the Minister of Health’s Office and the Prime Minister’s Office may change their minds later but that he was ‘OK for now.’ However, Mr. Stewart told Fortin to prepare himself ‘for the moment when they determine that you need to be let go.’ Mr. Stewart said: ‘Keep your bags packed,’” the document says.The document says on April 9, Fortin learned that word of the investigation had begun to leak from the Canadian Forces National Investigative Services. Fortin complained to the provost marshal in charge of the military police. His application says it is unclear if that leak was ever identified or investigated.On April 15, Eyre told Fortin the complainant did not want to make the complaint public. On April 19, a military police investigator called and notified Fortin he was “being investigated for one instance of sexual misconduct” alleged to have occurred more than 30 years ago.On May 13, Stewart, the PHAC president, again

Former vaccine boss sues to get job back, blames Justin Trudeau and top ministers for ‘improper’ removal’

OTTAWA—Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin is challenging his removal as head of Canada’s vaccine rollout in an explosive judicial application, saying there was “improper political interference” by two ministers, the prime minister and the country’s top civil servant, according to new court documents.

Fortin is asking for judicial review at the Federal Court of Canada, and is seeking to be reinstated as the lead of vaccine rollout at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) or an equal posting that someone of his rank as a two-star general should have, calling the original decision unreasonable, arbitrary, unfair and a violation of his and the complainant’s rights.

Fortin says the decision to push him out — and public pronouncements that signalled it was a case of improper sexual misconduct — caused “significant reputational harm (…) whether or not they can be disproven or are found to be frivolous or unsubstantiated.”

The public comments by cabinet members not only interfered with matters that were properly only for the military chain of command, but also violated his right “not to have personal information disclosed” under the privacy act, and the complainant’s desire for the investigation to be kept confidential,” and could potentially compromise the investigation, says the application to have the decision overturned.

The notice of application filed Monday says Fortin has not been reassigned within the military since being ousted from his posting at the vaccine operation on May 13, a decision that was made public on May 14.

But it lays out a detailed timeline of Fortin’s sacking from PHAC that had previously been kept under wraps.

Last month, military investigators referred an allegation of sexual misconduct against Fortin to the Quebec prosecution service, which has the power to decide whether or not any criminal charge will be laid in relation to a historical complaint that occurred in Quebec more than three decades ago.

The new documents do not lay out specifics of the complaint, but the allegation has been reported to relate to an incident that happened while Fortin was a student at the Royal Military College at St-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

Fortin, through his former military lawyer, categorically denied any allegation.

In a notice of application to have the decision quashed or referred back to Lieut.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of defence staff, Fortin suggests that he held Eyre’s confidence until the decision was made by political actors to boot him.

Fortin had been assigned on Nov. 23 to PHAC to co-ordinate the national vaccination rollout — a posting that was extended in late February to Oct. 31, just weeks before the complaint was first raised to his military boss — a decision that was approved by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan at Eyre’s request, according to the document.

But on March 17, Fortin met with Eyre who said he’d just learned an investigation had been launched by military police into an allegation of “sexual misconduct.”

The document says Fortin, who commanded the NATO mission in Iraq between 2018 and 2019, was told by Eyre that he wanted Fortin “to hear it from him and not the press.”

The document goes on to say Fortin “was not given any information on the allegations at this time.” Eyre is said to have offered Fortin the opportunity to take time off, which Fortin declined, indicating he wanted to continue working on the vaccine distribution.

Eyre phoned Fortin later the same evening to say the privy council office — the prime minister’s department — was informed of the investigation. Eyre, the document says, assured Fortin he would continue to advocate for “due process, the presumption of innocence” and that he be allowed to stay in the job.

The following morning, March 18, Fortin himself notified Iain Stewart, the president of PHAC, of the investigation.

Stewart assured him in a meeting later that afternoon “it was business as usual” while the investigation ran its course, and “reiterated that MGen Fortin was entitled to due process and that he was presumed innocent.”

Stewart told Fortin “that the Minister of Health’s Office and the Prime Minister’s Office may change their minds later but that he was ‘OK for now.’ However, Mr. Stewart told Fortin to prepare himself ‘for the moment when they determine that you need to be let go.’ Mr. Stewart said: ‘Keep your bags packed,’” the document says.

The document says on April 9, Fortin learned that word of the investigation had begun to leak from the Canadian Forces National Investigative Services. Fortin complained to the provost marshal in charge of the military police. His application says it is unclear if that leak was ever identified or investigated.

On April 15, Eyre told Fortin the complainant did not want to make the complaint public.

On April 19, a military police investigator called and notified Fortin he was “being investigated for one instance of sexual misconduct” alleged to have occurred more than 30 years ago.

On May 13, Stewart, the PHAC president, again met with Fortin and told him that Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan “had discussed the issue and that they wanted to remove him.”

The document says Fortin was “told to ‘take a sick day tomorrow.’ Fortin said he would take “a day off.” That evening, Eyre, Fortin’s military boss, called Fortin and said they would work on a transition to a new post, but was not given any information about what triggered his removal.

The acting defence staff chief told Fortin “that the ‘political calculus’ had changed and that the PCO (privy council office) had said he would have to be removed,” the document says.

On May 14, the news became public. The department of national defence issued a statement announcing Fortin’s secondment had been terminated.

The document indicates Fortin was told his departure was “not negotiable” but he had a choice about the wording and he chose the version “in which it appeared that he had decided to step down and resign his assigned military duty at PHAC.” It says he was not given an opportunity to “make representations” nor did he receive any written notice of the decision to end his secondment or relieve him of the performance of the military duty.”

The application points a finger at Sajjan’s public comments on the case in which the minister said he is committed to “lasting change …that sheds toxic and outdated values, practices and policies” and another that “asked that the complainant receive any necessary support.”

It says Sajjan made clear the investigation involved “improper conduct that was sexual in nature.”

Fortin’s application says that the major general “understands” the decision to terminate him and make the reasons public was made by Hajdu and Sajjan “in collaboration with” the PMO and PCO. It says the decision was taken by the ministers, the prime minister and the clerk of the privy council (Janice Charette is acting in the job).

Fortin claims it was “arbitrary, not in the public interest and made solely for the personal and political gain of the ministers of health and national defence and the prime minister.”

By law, Fortin says, the decision should have been Eyre’s alone.

He argues the ministers “circumvented and interfered with” Eyre’s powers and functions, and “effectively prevented” Eyre from reassigning Fortin to a position “commensurate with his rank.”

It says as a result Fortin has been “de facto, relieved from performance of his military duty” — a power that only lies with the Canadian Armed Forces chain of command.

Fortin says he only learned of the referral of “an allegation of sexual misconduct” to the Quebec prosecutions office “through news media reports.”

The document says Fortin “expects he will no longer be considered for any promotions, special missions or key positions due to the significant reputational damage that has resulted from the decision.”

Fortin asks the Federal Court to conclude there is no other “reasonable outcome” than to quash the decision and reinstate him, or to refer it back to Eyre, “the proper decision-maker” to allow him to be heard and for reasons to be given for any new decision.

Sajjan’s press secretary Daniel Minden, in an emailed statement that Hajdu’s office said stands as her response and that of all the government officials involved, said, “As this is an ongoing legal matter, it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”

Military law expert Michel Drapeau, a retired colonel, told the Star at the time of Fortin’s removal that military police investigators owed Fortin a duty under military administrative law to outline the case against him that led to his removal from his post.

“It is high time that a modicum of procedural fairness be brought. At present it seems as if DND was ruled by an authoritative regime. The cascade of sudden public removal of senior respected leaders is unprecedented and unmerited. At the end it will cost Canada dearly. The Canadian military is losing a generation of trusted and battle-tested leaders. Also, these leaders — and their families — are now losing faith and confidence in the fair and just judgment of their political leaders. This a sort of witch hunt. It has got to stop.”

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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Awash in vaccine, now Canada plans to share with other countries. Is it too little, too late?

It’s a staple of flight attendant wisdom: You must secure your own oxygen mask before trying to help others.And that seems to have been the mindset for the planet’s wealthiest countries, including Canada, during the initial race to get their citizens vaccinated against COVID-19.Now, with that rollout in such countries well underway, they’re turning to the rest of the world – a pivot global health experts say is too little, too late for the many nations that have been left gasping for breath.This weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to sending a total of 100 million doses abroad by the end of the year. It’s a slice of an overall one-billion-dose pledge made by the assembled nations of the G7.Of Canada’s committed doses, 87 million have been paid for by already announced funding. The other 13 million, confirmed International Development Minister Karina Gould, are the remainder of the doses Canada had purchased for itself from the global vaccine sharing program known as COVAX.Canada has been a major donor to COVAX, which is a global vaccine sharing scheme designed to make doses accessible to the developing world. Though it had the right to do so, Canada was heavily criticized for withdrawing doses from COVAX when it announced the move.Gould told the Star on Monday that Canada will take no more doses from the initiative for its own use.The decision to give the doses back is a reflection of the fact that this country is now relatively flush with vaccine — something most of the world cannot say.Global health experts say the commitments seen at the G7 summit, which saw leaders such as the U.K.’s Boris Johnson speak out against so-called vaccine nationalism, is still just a drop in the bucket. The bucket, in this case, being a planet of almost eight billion people, many of whom will need to get two doses of vaccine if the global pandemic is going to be brought to a halt.Advocates say Canada’s donation is relatively small — and that seven million of the shots are to be from a company called Novavax, whose vaccine has yet to be authorized for use in Canada or anywhere else.But Gould maintains that this is a process, and it won’t be the last donation. She’s also quick to reassure Canadians that none of this will affect the rollout here.“We’ve tried to be very careful in terms of making sure that once we know what’s excess, we can donate them,” she says.A new poll shows the line that Canadian government officials will have to walk. An Angus Reid poll, released Monday, found seven in 10 Canadians are against sending doses abroad until everyone within our borders has gotten a chance to get both jabs.The argument for sharing, as global health experts put it, is two-fold. There is a moral argument to help other countries while people continue to die, but also a selfish one: As long as the virus spreads around the world, Canadians will remain vulnerable to new variants and renewed waves of disease.It’s a perspective that Gould echoes — she speaks of the “moral imperative” of helping other countries. “But there’s also a self interest that, as Canadians, we’re only really going to be safe once the whole world is safe.”The response of Canada and other wealthy nations so far has disappointed some observers.“We’re in the middle of a pandemic; this is a global public health emergency,” says Jason Nickerson, an Ontario-based humanitarian affairs adviser for Doctors Without Borders.“Canada’s got a portfolio with more than 400 million doses, and a population of 38 million. I don’t understand why we’re not moving quicker to free up donations.”Early on in the pandemic, Canada was one of a handful of countries that hedged its bets by signing prepurchase agreements with multiple vaccine makers, essentially guaranteeing a spot in line should a dose prove successful. At that point, no one knew which of the vaccines would eventually work, so it was akin to backing a bunch of different horses in the race.The result of that strategy has been that the Canadian government got its hands on multiple leading vaccines relatively early on, but still has claim to enough doses to vaccinate the national population 10 times over.Canada wasn’t the only country to do this. As a result, for months, the lion’s share of the world’s vaccines have poured into a handful of wealthy countries while the rest of the world has had to wait.Some countries have been quicker to send the cavalry abroad, experts say.Russia and China have been sending shipments of their vaccines abroad for months, though questions have been raised about the efficacy of some of their shots. More recently, the U.S. announced its first plan to share 80 million doses to other countries by the end of June, while the U.K. pledged 30 million by the end of the year.Canada, in particular, has been thin on details, experts say. While we’ve donated millions of dollars to COVAX, this weekend marks the first commitment to send some of our own surplus shots.Right now, the push for wealthy c

Awash in vaccine, now Canada plans to share with other countries. Is it too little, too late?

It’s a staple of flight attendant wisdom: You must secure your own oxygen mask before trying to help others.

And that seems to have been the mindset for the planet’s wealthiest countries, including Canada, during the initial race to get their citizens vaccinated against COVID-19.

Now, with that rollout in such countries well underway, they’re turning to the rest of the world – a pivot global health experts say is too little, too late for the many nations that have been left gasping for breath.

This weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to sending a total of 100 million doses abroad by the end of the year. It’s a slice of an overall one-billion-dose pledge made by the assembled nations of the G7.

Of Canada’s committed doses, 87 million have been paid for by already announced funding. The other 13 million, confirmed International Development Minister Karina Gould, are the remainder of the doses Canada had purchased for itself from the global vaccine sharing program known as COVAX.

Canada has been a major donor to COVAX, which is a global vaccine sharing scheme designed to make doses accessible to the developing world. Though it had the right to do so, Canada was heavily criticized for withdrawing doses from COVAX when it announced the move.

Gould told the Star on Monday that Canada will take no more doses from the initiative for its own use.

The decision to give the doses back is a reflection of the fact that this country is now relatively flush with vaccine — something most of the world cannot say.

Global health experts say the commitments seen at the G7 summit, which saw leaders such as the U.K.’s Boris Johnson speak out against so-called vaccine nationalism, is still just a drop in the bucket. The bucket, in this case, being a planet of almost eight billion people, many of whom will need to get two doses of vaccine if the global pandemic is going to be brought to a halt.

Advocates say Canada’s donation is relatively small — and that seven million of the shots are to be from a company called Novavax, whose vaccine has yet to be authorized for use in Canada or anywhere else.

But Gould maintains that this is a process, and it won’t be the last donation. She’s also quick to reassure Canadians that none of this will affect the rollout here.

“We’ve tried to be very careful in terms of making sure that once we know what’s excess, we can donate them,” she says.

A new poll shows the line that Canadian government officials will have to walk. An Angus Reid poll, released Monday, found seven in 10 Canadians are against sending doses abroad until everyone within our borders has gotten a chance to get both jabs.

The argument for sharing, as global health experts put it, is two-fold. There is a moral argument to help other countries while people continue to die, but also a selfish one: As long as the virus spreads around the world, Canadians will remain vulnerable to new variants and renewed waves of disease.

It’s a perspective that Gould echoes — she speaks of the “moral imperative” of helping other countries. “But there’s also a self interest that, as Canadians, we’re only really going to be safe once the whole world is safe.”

The response of Canada and other wealthy nations so far has disappointed some observers.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic; this is a global public health emergency,” says Jason Nickerson, an Ontario-based humanitarian affairs adviser for Doctors Without Borders.

“Canada’s got a portfolio with more than 400 million doses, and a population of 38 million. I don’t understand why we’re not moving quicker to free up donations.”

Early on in the pandemic, Canada was one of a handful of countries that hedged its bets by signing prepurchase agreements with multiple vaccine makers, essentially guaranteeing a spot in line should a dose prove successful. At that point, no one knew which of the vaccines would eventually work, so it was akin to backing a bunch of different horses in the race.

The result of that strategy has been that the Canadian government got its hands on multiple leading vaccines relatively early on, but still has claim to enough doses to vaccinate the national population 10 times over.

Canada wasn’t the only country to do this. As a result, for months, the lion’s share of the world’s vaccines have poured into a handful of wealthy countries while the rest of the world has had to wait.

Some countries have been quicker to send the cavalry abroad, experts say.

Russia and China have been sending shipments of their vaccines abroad for months, though questions have been raised about the efficacy of some of their shots. More recently, the U.S. announced its first plan to share 80 million doses to other countries by the end of June, while the U.K. pledged 30 million by the end of the year.

Canada, in particular, has been thin on details, experts say. While we’ve donated millions of dollars to COVAX, this weekend marks the first commitment to send some of our own surplus shots.

Right now, the push for wealthy countries to send vaccines elsewhere is a necessary Band-Aid, says Dr. Ananya Tina Banerjee, an assistant professor of public health at McGill University.

For as long as global health problems are solved by what is essentially voluntary donations there will always be a divide between the rich and the poor, she adds.

In some ways, COVID is following in the footsteps of the fight against AIDS, she says. That, too, was a global pandemic, but while western countries were able to get it largely under control, thanks to expensive pharmaceuticals, poorer countries remain reliant on donations and foreign aid and continue to battle what is still an active threat.

“At this point, it’s clear that low-income countries have charitable status, and that they have to wait upon the convenience of high-income countries, particularly, the U.K. and the U.S., where the vast majority of vaccines are being produced.”

Banerjee would rather wealthy countries take action that would spread vaccine research and production around.

For example, countries such as India and South Africa have been pushing for months for what is known as the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Waiver, known as the TRIPS Waiver for short, that would eliminate intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines and allow them to be manufactured by other companies.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the pitch to the G7 again over the weekend.

Gould says Canada remains open to TRIPS and officials see their role to be bringing different countries together to build consensus on things such as vaccine production and supply chains. Still, there has been no decision yet.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, according to the BBC, “The world was looking to us to reject some of the selfish, nationalistic approaches that marred the initial global response to the pandemic and to channel all our diplomatic, economic and scientific might to defeating COVID for good.”

But Banerjee worries that Canadians aren’t yet getting that message. She points to the pushback, some of it hateful, she gets whenever she tweets about global vaccine equity.

The time is coming, she argues, when Canadians are going to realize that travel and trade and even normal life won’t fully return until the virus is under control in other parts of the world.

People “really need to understand that the pandemic is not going to be over for us as Canadians unless it’s over for everyone.”

Alex Boyd is a Calgary-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_n_boyd

Source : Toronto Star More   

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