Whistleblower complaints to be reviewed

OTTAWA — Complaints of wrongdoing in the public service that were dismissed by the former integrity commissioner will be reviewed, government and commission officials said Tuesday.

OTTAWA — Complaints of wrongdoing in the public service that were dismissed by the former integrity commissioner will be reviewed, government and commission officials said Tuesday.

Treasury Board Minister Stockwell Day said he expects the interim commissioner will take on that job as his first priority.

Day appointed Mario Dion, the former chair of the National Parole Board, to the post on Tuesday.

“It is my expectation and certainly it is the expectation of parliamentarians that among the things he will be doing is following up on all the cases that were reviewed by the previous integrity commissioner,” Day told reporters.

But Joe Friday, the current deputy commissioner, said the office is prepared for an external review of the cases.

“We want to ensure that the decisions made in them are fully supported, clearly analysed and defensible,” Friday told a Commons committee on Tuesday.

Friday said he intends to raise the possibility of an external review with Dion when he starts his job on Monday.

Opposition politicians expressed frustration with Dion’s appointment, saying they weren’t consulted.

“Not even the courtesy of a phone call,” said NDP MP Pat Martin.

Dion’s appointment will run for six months, while the government seeks a permanent commissioner.

The public accounts committee was reviewing Auditor General Sheila Fraser’s report on Christiane Ouimet, the former integrity commissioner.

The report found that Ouimet berated and bullied staff and didn’t do her job properly.

Her office has received around 170 allegations of wrongdoing since it was established in 2007, but substantiated none of them. It also received 58 claims of reprisals.

But upon a review of some files, Fraser found that there wasn’t enough work done to simply dismiss them.

She also found the office had no formal guidelines for reviewing files.

The complaints included the case of military veteran Sean Bruyea, who has since received an apology from the federal government for the way his personal information was circulated within the bureaucracy.

The office currently has 15 active investigations, eight of which were started after Fraser’s audit ended.

Ouimet retired in October, a month before the auditor general released her findings.

Fraser’s investigation was sparked by internal complaints into the way Ouimet did her job.

Ouimet’s office had an annual staff turnover rate of 50 per cent and workers told the auditor general stories of being sworn at and marginalized.

A former employee also charged that Ouimet compiled 375 pages of personal information about him and circulated this to other bureaucrats and the private sector because she believed he had complained to the auditor general.

Ouimet, a public servant for decades, disputed the allegations.

The committee invited her to testify but she didn’t call back.

The MPs intend to try again.

“I don’t like the idea that someone who was appointed as a commissioner, with that kind of money, can just cut and run and hide and not be accountable at the end of the day,” said NDP MP David Christopherson.

Ouimet is also being asked to appear before the government operations committee, and Martin of the NDP said the MPs are prepared to send her a summons demanding she show up.

The integrity commissioner’s office was one of several new institutions brought in by the Conservative government after they came to power as part of a push for greater accountability in government.

Ouimet’s appointment was reviewed by both the House and Senate.

She was required to file an annual report and also appeared before Commons’ committees five times to discuss her work.

Someone should have picked up on the problem earlier, said Tory MP Daryl Kramp.

“Maybe Parliament has dropped the ball a little bit here,” he said.

Ouimet is not the first officer of parliament to leave under a cloud.

Former privacy commissioner George Radwanski resigned after it was revealed he’d racked up thousands of dollars in travel and hospitality expenses. He was acquitted on fraud charges.

That experience prompted yearly audits for oversight bodies and Fraser said perhaps it’s time for other reviews.

She is calling her fellow officers of Parliament together in the new year to examine what steps they might be able to take.

The officers are the auditor general, the privacy and information commissioners, the chief electoral officer, the official languages commissioner, the conflict of interest commissioner, the lobbying commissioner and the integrity commissioner.