WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone affected by it.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin said Tuesday that he is not guilty of sexual assault and never had any physical contact with a woman who made detailed allegations against him in court this week.
Speaking in French on the second day of his trial, Fortin told a Gatineau, Que., courtroom that he was shocked and devastated to learn of what he called the “false allegations” that destroyed his reputation.
Fortin was the military officer in charge of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine campaign. He was removed from the position in May 2021 and charged with one count of sexual assault three months later.
His defence lawyer, Isabel Schurman, has argued that the complainant incorrectly identified Fortin.
Fortin testified that everyone had to sleep with their bedroom doors unlocked in the barracks for fire safety reasons and that he never entered the woman’s room.
But during testimony in court Tuesday, the woman at the centre of Fortin’s trial told court she is certain the high-profile military commander is the one who assaulted her in 1988.
The woman told court that while she can’t recall whether her attacker spoke during the alleged assault, she is certain of his identity.
“I can assure you without a doubt that it was Dany Fortin standing over me masturbating himself with my hand,” the complainant testified Tuesday.
“I looked at him. I knew that man. I spent 18 months with him being around day in and day out, and so there may be some slight variances, but there are no variances in that.”
Fortin denies allegations
Schurman has argued there are inconsistencies between the woman’s interviews with investigators and her testimony in court.
Fortin was charged in 2021 with one count of sexual assault tied to an incident alleged to have happened more than three decades ago when he was a cadet at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.
Fortin wore his military uniform and his medals for his civilian criminal trial, which started Monday at the Gatineau courthouse in Quebec. His wife and daughter walked into the courthouse with Fortin and sat in the front row.
The court has issued a publication ban on any details that could identify the complainant.
The complainant testified that she woke up in her bed in barracks in 1988 to find Fortin holding her hand on his genitals and using it to masturbate.
The woman said Fortin had his other hand on her breasts. She said that when she tried to pull her hand away, he did not stop initially and tightened his grip.
The complainant testified that she was “horrified” and pushed him away, saying “get off me, get away.” Fortin then pulled up his pants and left her room, she said.
The woman testified on Monday that Fortin never spoke during the alleged assault. On Tuesday, Schurman asked why the complainant told an investigator last year that she recognized Fortin’s voice and his French accent during the incident.
Defence claims conflicting testimony
The defence on Monday cited statements the complainant made in an earlier interview alleging the assailant moved to touch her vagina before she pushed him away. The complainant testified Monday that the statement wasn’t accurate and she was under stress during that interview.
The complaint said she has recurring visions of the alleged attack and Fortin “masturbating himself with my hand” over her. She said she doesn’t “100 per cent” remember what he did beyond the masturbation because she was ‘in shock and in panic.”
“When you come into court and you’re asked to take an oath, you have to be 100 per cent sure,” said the woman.
“I know he has fondled me. When you want to know the exact details, I cannot tell you 100 per cent where his hand was as I am in shock, and I am in panic, and I don’t know what he’s going to do to me beyond the masturbation … I don’t know if his intent is to rape me …”
A court sketch of Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin on day one of his sexual assault trial in Gatineau, Que., on Sept. 19, 2022. (Lauren Foster-MacLeod/CBC)
The complainant testified Monday that she told her boyfriend about the alleged incident. Her ex testified that he didn’t recall that conversation. He said he didn’t recall knowledge of sexual assaults of a criminal nature, but said he witnessed discussions and an environment that could be described as one of “sexual misconduct.”
The complainant also testified on Monday that she believed her roommate was in the room during the assault and could have been a witness — and that she later asked her roommate, without offering specifics, whether she had seen or heard something.
The roommate testified there was a divider across their room in the barracks so she wouldn’t have been able to see her neighbour’s bed. The roommate also said she didn’t hear anything and was a heavy sleeper and constantly tired because of the physical toll the cadet program took on her.
‘A lot of inappropriate behaviour’
The former roommate, meanwhile, said her time at military college was not a positive experience and she “wanted to quit every day I was there.”
“You were exposed to a lot of behaviours that were probably not appropriate,” said the roommate, adding there were “a lot of parties” there.
“We were teenagers. Most of couldn’t drink in most provinces. We were pushed to our personal limits … intellectual, emotionally, physically, sexually. A lot of people probably never experienced things like that. I think there was a lot of inappropriate behaviour in all facets and most people just want to fit in.”
A senior member of the complainant’s chain of command was called to the stand Tuesday and confirmed that the complainant reported the assault to him in early 2021.
The case is back in court on Oct. 24.
Fortin is also challenging his removal from the vaccine campaign in Federal Court. That appeal is scheduled to be heard on Oct. 5.
WATCH | Military commander charged with sexual assault says he’s living a ‘nightmare’:
Dany Fortin charged with sexual assault, says he’s living through a ‘nightmare’
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin speaks to media outside a police station in Gatineau, Que., regarding a sexual assault charge he faces. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local support services through this Government of Canada website or the Ending Violence Association of Canada database. If you’re in immediate danger or fear for your safety or that of others around you, please call 911.