Military bans members on trial from wearing uniforms, medals in civilian court

The military is banning its members from wearing their uniforms and medals in civilian court while defending themselves on criminal charges.

The move comes after CBC News reported two months ago that military sexual trauma survivors were offended by a highly-decorated military commander’s decision to wear his uniform and medals to his ongoing sexual assault trial.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the former head of Canada’s vaccine task force, was charged last year with one count of sexual assault in connection with an alleged incident in 1988. He has pleaded not guilty.

Since Fortin’s trial began in September, he has defended himself in court while wearing his uniform and ten medals across his chest.

A spokesperson for Fortin — who did not want to be named due to concerns about online reprisals — has said that Fortin is presumed innocent and it’s appropriate for him, as a serving officer, to wear his uniform in court.

But some sexual trauma survivors described Fortin’s decision to wear his medals as an act of intimidation that would have a silencing effect on survivors.

They said the uniform is a powerful symbol of the institution and wearing it could make a complainant feel like they’re facing off in court against the entire Canadian Armed Forces.

In response to the complaints and media questions, the military said in September it would review its dress code policy. The Department of National Defence also said it’s a “personal choice for which individuals are responsible.”

WATCHMilitary commander criticized for wearing full uniform to civilian trial: 

Military commander criticized for wearing full uniform to civilian trial

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin drew criticism after wearing his full military uniform, including 10 medals, while on trial in civilian court for sexual assault.

The Canadian Armed forces leadership has now told all military personnel that, starting on December 1, they will be allowed to wear their uniforms to civilian criminal court only if they are testifying on behalf of the forces or the Crown in a military capacity. 

The new policy is in line with other police forces in Canada and allies’ military forces, the directive to military members said.

“The cultural evolution of the CAF is an ongoing process,” said DND spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier in a media statement. “Over the last year, the Defence Team committed to using integrated, transparent and trauma-informed approaches as part of its culture growth initiatives.”

The civilian judicial system prosecutes a series of offences involving military members, including murder, manslaughter and sexual assault.

Fortin is scheduled to return to court on Dec. 5, when the judge presiding over his case is expected to render a decision.

According to the new policy, Fortin will have to wear civilian clothes to his trial for the first time.

Fortin and his lawyer have said they will not comment on any matters related to his trial while the trial continues.

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