Integrity Commissioner’s office urged to reopen files

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Gloria Galloway – December 10, 2010

The Public Sector Integrity Commissioner’s office is figuring out its next steps after a damning report by the Auditor General found former commissioner Christiane Ouimet spent the past three years doing very little in response to disclosures of wrongdoing from whistleblowers.

The office has not yet decided if it will reopen the 228 complaints that were filed during the tenure of Ms. Ouimet, said Sylvie Lecompte, a spokeswoman for the Integrity Commissioner’s office. All but seven of those complaints were dismissed without being investigated and none of them resulted in a finding of wrongdoing.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser said the office, which is operating without a permanent replacement for Ms. Ouimet, should review the files to assure Parliament, the public and the people who brought the complaints forward that they have been dealt with in a serious manner.

Treasury Board President Stockwell Day is also urging that the files be reopened. “We definitely expect that all of these cases would be reviewed,” Mr. Day said in a telephone interview on Friday.

The office of the commissioner is independent of Parliament and Mr. Day stressed that politicians cannot dictate its activities. But “there’s a cloud over all the cases right now,” he said.

David Hutton, the executive director of the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform, agrees with Mr. Day’s assessment. But he said there is a problem with asking the existing staff, many of whom spent years working with Ms. Ouimet, to review the files.

“The acting commissioner, Joe Friday, was the senior legal counsel” for the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, Mr. Hutton said. “It was his job to approve all of the cases and advise Madame Ouimet about the legality of her decisions. We are asking him to review his own work.”

Mr. Hutton said the situation demands that a team of competent and independent people look at all of these files again.

He also noted that the current legislation outlining the mandate of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner is poorly crafted and provides all kinds of reasons for the commissioner to reject cases.

The legislation is up for statutory review in 2012 and Mr. Day said it would be a good thing for a Parliamentary committee to take a look at it “now, right in the new year.”

As for Mr. Hutton’s warning that the existing staff should not be asked to review the files, Mr. Day said the problem would be solved with the quick appointment of a new acting commissioner. “It would be someone from the outside,” he said.

The Auditor General’s report has focused public attention on this office, Mr. Day said. “I think people who would be doing the technical work are going to be even more acutely aware of that and [will] make sure everything is done as it should be.”

Original article on Globe and Mail website