Woman tells court she’s certain Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin sexually assaulted her in 1988

WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced​ ​​​sexual violence or know someone affected by it.

The woman at the centre of Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin’s sexual assault trial told court Tuesday she is certain the high-profile military commander is the one who assaulted her in 1988.

Fortin denies the allegation and has pleaded not guilty. Fortin’s lawyer has argued there are inconsistencies between the woman’s interviews with investigators and her testimony in court.

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.”

Defence lawyer Isabel Schurman said she would be vigorously contesting that identification.

Fortin was removed from his job as head of Canada’s vaccine rollout last year in response to a military police investigation.

He 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.

A court sketch of a man in a military uniform, sitting in a chair.
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 two-day criminal trial started Monday at the Gatineau courthouse in Quebec. Fortin wore his military uniform and his medals for the civilian court proceeding. 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 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.

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.”

“I can’t be sure 34 years later exactly where his hand has gone,” she said.

The woman also said she’s not certain if the assailant spoke.

The complainant’s roommate at the time of the alleged assault also testified on Tuesday. She confirmed that she didn’t recall hearing the alleged attack.

The roommate said 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 was a heavy sleeper and constantly tired because of the physical toll the cadet program took on her.

The roommate testified that she didn’t remember the complainant telling her about the alleged sexual assault. 

“I don’t recall it,” said the former roommate. “I’m not saying it never happened.” 

The former roommate 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 behaviours in all facets and most people just want to fit in.”

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. 

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