When it finally dawned on federal whistleblower Joanna Gualtieri that her 12-year legal ordeal was over, her enormous relief was tempered by the realization that her mother was not there to witness her triumph.
Gualtieri’s mother stood by her day and night through the highs and lows of the longest-running whistleblower harassment case in the city, but she did not live to see her daughter prevail. The thought saddens Gualtieri.
“One of the first things that occurred to me when this was over was that my mother, who was devoted to standing by me through this, died in the last year and half,” Gualtieri said in an interview.
“I would have loved to be able to tell her that, ultimately, I prevailed, that I survived. I can’t because it went on for so long. My brother died as well.”
Gualtieri said the pain of losing loved ones was something she could never overcome, but she felt enormous relief because many other friends and loved ones who were “dragged down” by her battle could finally get on with their lives.
Gualtieri confirmed Wednesday that the harassment lawsuit she brought in 1998 against her former employer, the Department of Foreign Affairs, had been settled. The case arose out of a complaint she made to her bosses about real-estate abuses abroad that were costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
She is limited in what she can say because of a confidentiality agreement. Gualtieri allowed, however, that, with the long legal battle over, she and her family could start “recovering.”
David Hutton, executive director of Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR), a group that Gualtieri founded to help whistleblowers, hailed the settlement as a personal triumph and vindication for her.
However, Hutton lamented that it would do nothing for the cause of federal whistleblowers because the law had been changed to prevent public servants from suing the federal government as Gualtieri did.
He said federal legislation that was supposed to help whistleblowers was actually stacked against them.
“It must be such a sweet victory for (Gualtieri) because it was such a struggle,” Hutton said.
“But whistleblowers are in worse shape now than before. No one can ever do again what Joanna did, and that’s a tremendous loss.”
Gualtieri’s saga began in the early 1990s, when she complained about waste and extravagance in the purchase of high-end apartments for diplomats abroad. Among the examples of waste she chronicled was a multi-million-dollar mansion in Tokyo that was allowed to stand empty for three to four years while the diplomat who was to occupy it received hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to rent a luxury apartment. She also claimed that million-dollar condos in Tokyo were used to house the ambassador’s butler and chef in violation of rules. She also complained about the purchase of expensive apartments in Guatemala City, which the department first stopped and later approved.
Gualtieri complained that, following her reports, foreign affairs brass began a pattern of harassment that eventually forced her to go on medical leave. In 1998, she filed a $30-million lawsuit against the federal government, claiming department officials emotionally abused and ostracized her.
In 2000, an Ontario Superior Court judge threw out the case and ordered Gualtieri to pay the government $80,000 in costs.
She appealed and had the case reinstated, but government lawyers played hardball as the case dragged its way through the courts.
In 2008, after numerous discovery motions and examination, a pre-trial judge accused government lawyers of abusing the discovery process and ordered them to stop. A trial date was provisionally set for this year, and then, out of the blue, a settlement was announced.
Gualtieri said it had been a long and hard road to travel.
“Basically as my doctor said, I’ve been under the bus for 15 years, and what I learned is that the caring and decency of those who supported and advocated for me ultimately triumphed,” she said.
“That’s a life lesson that will stay with me for the rest of my life."
(Original article no longer available on Ottawa Citizen website)