Times Colonist

Forces com­man­der to lead vac­cine roll­out

- MIKE BLANCHFIEL­D Military · Canada News · Politics · Warfare and Conflicts · World Politics · Ottawa · Canadian Forces · NATO · Iraq · Afghanistan · Justin Trudeau · Kandahar · Harjit Sajjan · United Nations · Bosnia and Herzegovina · Quebec · Ontario · Public Health Agency of Canada · Confederation of African Football · Canadian Forces Land Force Command · Canadian Department of National Defence · Canadian Joint Operations Command · Andrew Leslie

OT­TAWA — Cana­dian Forces Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin knows his way around a mod­ern-day war zone as well as any Cana­dian soldier. He com­manded NATO’s train­ing mis­sion in Iraq and led Cana­dian sol­diers in Afghanista­n at the height of the fiercest fight­ing there.

But now he’s un­der­tak­ing what many Cana­di­ans would re­gard as his most im­por­tant mis­sion — lead­ing the lo­gis­ti­cal roll­out of a COVID-19 vac­cine on their home soil.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau named Fortin on Fri­day to lead the Cana­dian mil­i­tary in its role co-or­di­nat­ing lo­gis­tics for dis­tribut­ing a COVID-19 vac­cine across the coun­try, when one is ready.

The an­nounce­ment fol­lowed days of crit­i­cism over the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s vac­ci­na­tion strat­egy and un­cer­tainty about when Cana­di­ans might have ac­cess to an even­tual vac­cine.

The coun­try couldn’t be in bet­ter hands with Fortin lead­ing the vac­cine dis­tri­bu­tion, said his for­mer boss, An­drew Les­lie, a re­tired lieu­tenant-gen­eral who was the Cana­dian Army com­man­der when Fortin was the chief of staff of Canada’s Kan­da­har task force more than a decade ago.

But Les­lie said the gov­ern­ment should have mo­bi­lized the mil­i­tary for its vac­cine roll­out far sooner.

“Quite frankly, this all should have all been or­ga­nized months ago. But that’s not the Armed Forces’ fault,” Les­lie said in an in­ter­view Fri­day. “I’m sure the Armed

Forces will do the very best they can. And Dany’s go­ing to do a great job. But it’s all hands on deck right now.”

Les­lie en­tered pol­i­tics in 2015 to run as a Lib­eral for Trudeau as a mar­quee can­di­date. He was never ap­pointed to a full cab­i­net post and he de­cided not to run again in the 2019 fed­eral elec­tion.

De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan said in a state­ment that the mil­i­tary has played a role in Canada’s re­sponse to COVID-19 all along.

“Since the be­gin­ning of the pan­demic, the Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence and the Cana­dian Armed Forces [CAF] have been sup­port­ing Cana­di­ans,” he said.

Fortin most re­cently served as the chief of staff for the Cana­dian Joint Op­er­a­tions Com­mand. He was also com­man­der of the NATO mil­i­tary train­ing mis­sion in Iraq from Novem­ber 2018 un­til late last year. That fol­lowed sev­eral lead­er­ship posts in Afghanista­n the pre­vi­ous decade, and on NATO and United Na­tions mis­sions to Bos­nia in the 1990s.

Fortin help stand up NATO’s train­ing ef­forts aimed at pro­fes­sion­al­iz­ing Iraq’s mil­i­tary at a time of mas­sive in­ter­nal un­rest and the ever-present threat of re­treat­ing, but still plot­ting, Is­lamic State mil­i­tants.

Les­lie said Fortin led an “ex­traor­di­nar­ily suc­cess­ful” mis­sion to Iraq and there is likely no bet­ter mil­i­tary com­man­der to shep­herd Canada’s peace­time roll­out of a COVID-19 vac­cine across a vast, some­times re­mote coun­try. “He is qui­etly tough, ex­traor­di­nar­ily com­pe­tent, a re­ally good mix of at­ten­tion to de­tail and abil­ity to keep the big pic­ture in mind,” said Les­lie.

“Doesn’t get flum­moxed un­der pres­sure. He’s a com­bat vet­eran. He’s re­ally good with peo­ple — not only uni­formed peo­ple, but peo­ple writ large,” he added. “He can make the tough calls, but he’s a con­sen­sus builder.”

Fortin has held the trust of the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice while amass­ing im­por­tant ex­pe­ri­ence deal­ing with pub­lic ser­vants and the prov­inces, par­tic­u­larly in the “emer­gency pre­pared­ness realm” in Que­bec and in On­tario, said Les­lie.

Fortin will lead a new na­tional op­er­a­tions cen­tre within the Pub­lic Health Agency of Canada. He will be joined by two brigadier-gen­er­als and about two dozen other mil­i­tary per­son­nel. “Th­ese CAF mem­bers will strengthen plans by in­tro­duc­ing riskmit­i­ga­tion tools and by fa­cil­i­tat­ing a se­ries of ex­er­cises in ad­vance of the roll­out,” the Forces said in a state­ment.

Trudeau said Fortin will work­ing with pub­lic health of­fi­cials “on lo­gis­tics and de­liv­ery of this great­est mo­bi­liza­tion ef­fort Canada has seen since the Se­cond World War.”

Trudeau said the Forces will also help meet chal­lenges such as the “cold stor­age re­quire­ments” needed for some of the po­ten­tial vac­cine can­di­dates as well as data shar­ing, and help­ing reach In­dige­nous and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

“Canada is well pre­pared for large-scale roll­outs of vac­cines,” Trudeau said. “We must reach every­one who wants a vac­cine, no mat­ter where they live.”

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