The Joanna Gualtieri Case

Rating: 
3.5

Joanna Gualtieri ’s 18-year ordeal has all the hallmarks of abuse of office and abuse of institutional power: from the waste of public funds that she discovered in the course of her work at Foreign Affairs, to the years of harassment that she endured at the hands of her bosses when she spoke out about this, and then the endless and costly delay tactics employed by government lawyers in the lawsuit she brought against those responsible.

In A Nutshell

In the early 1990’s Joanna Gualtieri spoke out about lavish extravagance in the purchase of accommodation abroad for staff in Foreign Affairs. Reports by the Inspector General and Auditor General of Canada supported her allegations. Gualtieri claimed the bureau seemed not to care, that their bosses harassed her for raising the concerns and that she was a given dead-end job after coming forward, and finally ended up on unpaid medical leave.

Joanna Gualtieri
Joanna Gualtieri in 2002

In 1998 she launched a lawsuit against her former bosses for harassment. This case lasted for almost 12 years, dragged out by the legal manoeuvres of government lawyers defending the case. In February 2008, the presiding judge ruled that these lawyers have been abusing the pre-trial ‘discovery’ process: Ms. Gualtieri had already faced more than 10,500 questions from the government lawyers, many of them seemingly irrelevant to the case.

In spite of fragile health which is the aftermath of the harassment she experienced, and the ongoing burden of her case, Ms. Gualtieri founded FAIR and continued for almost a decade to do battle for other whistle-blowers through this non-profit organization.

The Waste

Ms. Gualtieri’s Statement of Claim describes some of the waste that she observed and attempted (without success) to halt. For example:

  • a large mansion in Tokyo valued at approximately $18 million was allowed to stand empty for 3-4 years while the intended occupant was provided with public moneys (approximately $350,000 per year) to rent a luxury apartment of his own choosing
  • million dollar Crown-owned condominiums in Tokyo were used to house the Ambassador’s Japanese butler and chef, in clear violation of stated rules and despite the fact that the Official Residence was approximately 25,000 square feet with dedicated servants’ quarters.

The Harassment

Ms. Gualtieri’s Statement of Claim describes a pattern of harassment by three of her bosses, almost from the time of submitting her first report, including: repeated and unjustified criticisms, public humiliation, stonewalling and nay-saying of her legitimate concerns, undermining her authority, threats and innuendos which prevented her from exercising her job responsibilities, the withdrawal of meaningful work, illegal deployment, blacklisting her, setting her up for failure, unlawful salary penalties and isolation.

Specific examples given include:

  • ridicule for her thoroughness and dedication to stewardship of public monies (in accordance with the law)
  • preventing her from implementing the cost saving measures she recommended
  • forbidding her from travelling to the Canadian missions for which she was responsible (as was required to perform her job)
  • instructing her not to complete a trip report, and then allowing false accusations of incompetence (in not submitting a report) to go unchallenged
  • publicly announcing that she was out of a job, removing her name from the Departmental phone directory (and the name tag from her office entrance), and refusing to assign her work
  • making arbitrary, false and misleading changes and omissions to her reports, thus preventing a paper trail that would be subject to the Access to Information Act…

After four years of this treatment Ms. Gualtieri was suffering with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and other stress-related problems, and on the advice of her doctors took unpaid leave. She has been unable since then to seek gainful employment.

The Lawsuit

Ms. Gualtieri initially sued her bosses, the Minister and the Government for harassment, seeking $30 million in order to set up a fund for the protection of whistle-blowers. The suit was against those directly involved in the harassment, as well as those higher in the chain of command — up to the Minister — to whom she had gone to for help, without success. Gualtieri sued these individuals since true accountability requires individuals to be held to account, not just the Crown.

The government lawyers’ first action was to seek removal from the lawsuit, of all individuals sued including the Minister. This was unsuccessful. After two years of costly pre-trial motions and discoveries they then moved to dismiss the suit on the basis of jurisdiction, claiming that Ms. Gualtieri already had an alternative remedy — to use the internal grievance process (i.e. to take the matter to her bosses). They also sought costs of $380,000. The Ontario Superior Court agreed, threw out the case and ordered Gualtieri to pay $80,000 in costs. Gualtieri appealed — and the Ontario Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s decision, thus clearing the way for her case to proceed.

It is worth noting that the government lawyers did not appeal this decision — which they could have done — but legislation was soon introduced containing a clause that stripped all public servants of the right to sue their employer (Public Service Modernization Act, S. 236). No federal public servant would ever be allowed to seek redress against their bosses in the way that Ms. Gualtieri had done. It is also worth noting that government lawyers sought costs against Gualtieri whether she won her appeal or not — an extraordinary request that was denied by the judges.

After more than four years of battling legal obstacles, Ms. Gualtieri was essentially back where she had started. She resumed the case with more modest aims — the claim for a fund to protect other whistle-blowers was reluctantly abandoned — and with a new legal team.

However, much of the next five years were to be spent in seemingly endless pre-trial ‘discoveries’ of Ms. Gualtieri by the government’s lawyers, with 10,579 questions asked and answered, many of them repetitive, argumentative and irrelevant to the case. In the process she was subjected to 31 days of examination in court: an extraordinarily high number, considering that the Rules of Civil Procedure in Ontario have been changed to impose a limit of seven hours (about one day), unless the parties consent to longer examinations or there is a court order. This relentless process continued even after she twice collapsed during or following court proceedings and her doctors had to call for respite.

In February 2008, with the case well into its tenth year, the pre-trial judge ruled that the government laywers’ methods constituted an abuse of the discovery process, and ordered an end to them.

Although embarassing to the defence, this ruling did not significantly change Ms. Gualtieri’s situation: it would not prevent government lawyers from submitting further pre-trial motions. A trial date was provisionally set for 2010:– 17 years after Gualtieri first started reporting waste.

The Settlement

In April 2010 FAIR was able to confirm that the case had been settled.

Media Coverage (chronological order)

  • Ms. Gualtieri’s Statement of Claim describes the waste that she reported and the harassment that she alleges she endured at the hands of her bosses.
  • The government lawyers’ Statement of Defence describes the allegations as “… fabricated and lacking in any substance whatsoever” and describes Ms. Gualtieri as “…a problem employee… who has falsely claimed to be a whistle-blower in order to cover up her own shortcomings.”
  • The Judge’s ruling describes how the government lawyers’ abused the legal process, thus dragging out Ms. Gualtieri’s case, increasing her costs and prolonging the adverse impact on her health.

Timeline

  • Feb 1992 — Gualtieri joins Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) as a Realty Strategist
  • Fall 1992 — First attempts by bosses to censor Gualtieri’s reports
  • Jun-Sep 1995 — Assigned to non-existent position
  • May 1996 to Dec 1997 — Medical leave
  • Jun 1998 to present — Medical leave (continued to date)
  • Jun 1998 — Lawsuit served against former bosses
  • Jul 1999 to May 2000 — Examination of defendants (5 people) completed
  • Mar 2000 — Examination of Gualtieri begins
  • May 2000 – Government moves to dismiss case based on jurisdiction
  • Nov 2000 — Judge rules in favour of motion to dismiss
  • Jan 2001 — Judge orders Gualtieri to pay government’s costs of $80,000
  • Aug 2002 — Ontario Court of Appeals reverses decision: her case can proceed
  • 2004 — Gualtieri examined for discovery for 3 days
  • Nov 2004 to Nov 2005 — Gualtieri undergoing high-risk pregnancy
  • 2006 – Gualtieri examined for discovery for 29 days
  • Mar 2006 — Gualtieri collapses during examination
  • Oct 2006 — Gualtieri suffers a complete breakdown following examination
  • Mar 2007 — Gualtieri files a motion to end discoveries, claiming abuse of the discovery process
  • Feb 2008 — Judge rules that government lawyers have caused delays and escalating costs by abusing the legal process
  • March 2010 — Government lawyers settle with Gualtieri, including a gag order that silences her completely.*

More Information


* Source Greg Weston: Enemy of the State