Home Politics Another senior soldier has been removed from the vaccine rollout project

Another senior soldier has been removed from the vaccine rollout project

A senior member of the Canadian Armed Forces was quietly removed from his role in Canada’s vaccine rollout last month in response to a complaint that he had used racist language in a workplace setting, CBC News has learned.

Brig.-Gen. Simon Bernard left his role at the Public Health Agency of Canada on May 17 — just three days after Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin left his post leading Canada’s vaccine logistics.

Sources tell CBC News that Bernard is accused of using the N-word in a workplace setting sometime in 2020, before his secondment to the public health agency. The complaint was made recently, while Bernard was Fortin’s second-in-command in vaccine and logistics planning. Bernard was appointed to that post in November.

In a media statement, the Department of National Defence (DND) confirmed that Bernard was the subject of “a complaint regarding language” and the armed forces is “working towards determining facts and next steps.”

“In order to preserve the integrity of the effort, we will not be disclosing the nature of the complaint,” said Daniel Le Bouthillier, DND head of media relations.

CBC News reached out to Bernard by email; Le Bouthillier said Bernard will not be commenting at this time.

The public health agency and government departments referred all questions to DND.

Bernard’s departure from the vaccine rollout project came at the request of public health officials. It was part of a series of events prompted by Fortin’s removal from the vaccine project over an allegation of sexual misconduct. 

Fortin’s former lawyer Cdr. Marc Létourneau has said his client denies that allegation.

Fortin’s departure was announced in a terse, three-line statement issued late in the day on May 14. His removal meant the vaccine project lost an experienced soldier and strong communicator just as the rollout was hitting a critical point.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin responds to a question on COVID vaccines during a news conference on January 14, 2021 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

It left the government searching for an adequate replacement. As Fortin’s number two, Bernard was a prime candidate.

But in the days after Fortin’s departure, government officials learned that Bernard himself was under investigation and he was removed from consideration.

Instead, Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie was named as Fortin’s successor on May 17. That same day, public health officials — having learned of the nature of the allegation against Bernard — ended his secondment at PHAC and sent him back to the Canadian Armed Forces.

“A decision was made to return him to the CAF early,” Le Bouthillier said in a media statement. “He has since been on annual leave and, upon his return, will be assigned to a position which remains to be determined.”

‘We … all need to do better’: Tam

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said that while she knows nothing about the specific incident, workplaces should be both safe and respectful of staff.

“There is no place, of course, for racism and stigma and discrimination in a workplace or in our society. It shouldn’t be tolerated,” she said today. “Racism is in many different systems, whether it’s the health system or other systems of society, and we, of course, all need to do better.”

Brodie said today she was unable to comment on the report but assured reporters that ongoing disciplinary measures would not affect Canada’s vaccine logistics.

“We are very focused on the team here at the Public Health Agency to ensure that we distribute vaccines as quickly, as safely, as efficiently as we can, in a matter that’s fair and equitable to all,” she said.

Watch: Brig.-Gen. Brodie, Tam respond to questions about removal of senior soldier from vaccine rollout project:

Brig.-Gen Krista Brodie, head of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution program, and Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, respond to a question about the removal of Brig.-Gen. Simon Bernard from his role in Canada’s vaccine rollout following a claim that he had used racist language in a workplace setting. 1:50

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