Mistrust and flagging morale have afflicted staff at Canada’s embassy in Copenhagen for at least a decade, a hidden government audit suggests.
The findings of an October 2003 inspection of embassy operations surfaced this week as the Department of Foreign Affairs continues investigating allegations by current and former locally-engaged staff (LES) of an “institutionalized culture” of misconduct, harassment and intimidation by Canadian diplomats in the Danish capital.
The complaints appear consistent with a finding from the 2003 internal audit, which cited a need to “win back the trust of the LES who in the past endured a number of difficult management teams.”
Other audit observations suggested problems with the morale and “team spirit” of Canadian diplomatic staff, led by then-ambassador Alphonso Gagliano, the former Liberal federal public works minister abruptly removed from cabinet to assume the Denmark post in 2002. He was fired by prime ministerial decree two years later when the sponsorship scandal exploded.
No details about the current probe have been released since a team from the department’s inspector-general’s office returned from a weeklong fact-finding trip to the embassy last week.
The investigation was ordered by Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird hours after a scathing Aug. 14 written complaint about embassy operations was delivered by email to his office.
About a dozen current and former local employees at the mission are believed to have signed on to the complaint under federal whistleblower legislation known as the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
A similar written grievance obtained by the Citizen alleges a host of improprieties and raises questions about an embassy real estate deal last fall and unauthorized personal use of the mission’s local staff, property and alcohol.
It also raises concerns about racial harassment of some locally-engaged staff, undocumented workers and one alleged incident involving prostitutes working in the embassy’s garage.
The document names a Canadian diplomat as being “very supportive of our case.”
None of the allegations has been proven and the department is said to be anxious to reach an outcome.
Late Tuesday, Baird’s office released a redacted summary of the 2003 audit findings which, due to unexplained “operational constraints” at the time, were never issued as a formal report, as is typically done. Nor were audit details posted on the department’s website, as are dozens of other mission inspection reports dating to 1999.
A Baird spokesman blamed the former Liberal government.
“Under the Liberals, the posting of these reports appears to have been hit and miss,” Rick Roth wrote in an email.
“Once complete, we now post all reports of this nature and their findings are taken very seriously.”
The summary, dated November 2006, states the document is intended to serve as “an overview of the main points” identified by the audit, “so some corporate memory” of the results and recommendations survive.
While far less detailed than typical inspection reports, the Copenhagen operation in the fall of 2003 received mixed reviews.
The consular program was noted for “good service,” while the general relations program was urged to “develop a work plan and set priorities.” (General relations activities typically involve increasing Canadian visibility, reporting on strategic issues and strengthening bilateral relations.)
Likewise, the mission’s international business development program was said to “need to develop a strategic plan and objectives — though good work is being done.”
The mission’s overall management appeared to be struggling and in need of “better program integration and communication.”
The audit praised Gagliano for “working hard to rebuild the team and improve morale.”
Yet his appointment and subsequent firing are now part of string of controversies to hit the mission over the past decade.
In 2001, it was revealed that former Canadian ambassador to Denmark Ernest Hebert had been quietly recalled in 1995 after a young housekeeper alleged he had sexually assaulted her at the Copenhagen embassy’s 1994 Christmas party. He was seconded to the University of Ottawa as an executive-in-residence, and has since left the position.
In 2002, when Gagliano was appointed, then-prime minister Jean Chrétien steadfastly maintained his move from Ottawa was not related to Gagliano’s well-publicized troubles with patronage and cronyism as public works minister.
Embassy staff appear to have embraced the man. “To the employees for the two years he was here, we have never had a better ambassador,” says one Copenhagen embassy worker, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Feb. 10, 2004, Gagliano was fired by then-prime minister Paul Martin just hours before then-auditor-general Sheila Fraser tabled her bombshell report on the sponsorship scandal. Gagliano maintained he did nothing wrong and was the victim of a smear campaign by Martin’s camp.
Last month, diplomat André Francois Giroux was named ambassador to Denmark, replacing Peter Lundy, who returned to Canada in August as part of a routine, previously-scheduled rotation.
Lundy has not responded to repeated calls from the Citizen for comment on allegations.