Transparency report on Global Affairs staff misconduct details bid-rigging, harassment, drunk driving and more

The department determined that 56 cases of wrongdoing were found to have basis between April 1, 2022 and March 30, 2023

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OTTAWA – Bid rigging, crashing a government car while intoxicated and sexually harassing co-workers are just some of the reasons Global Affairs Canada employees were fired or resigned last year, as the department works to tackle misconduct and better protect whistleblowers.

The information is contained in the first annual report titled “Addressing Misconduct and Wrongdoing at Global Affairs Canada” that was distributed to employees Tuesday and obtained by National Post.

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Global Affairs Canada (GAC) senior executives, headed by deputy minister David Morrison, write in the report that it is meant to address the longstanding frustration by employees that complaints of wrongdoing or misconduct are either ignored, take too long to investigate or will lead to reprisal against the complainants. Executives say they intend to publish an updated report annually.

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In an interview, a senior GAC official admitted there is a “trust deficit” between leadership and staff at Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department.

“That’s, at least in part, because of the perception, going back some time, that the department doesn’t take wrongdoing seriously,” said the official who asked to remain anonymous in order to speak freely on human resources issues.

“In town hall meetings, and staff interactions … it is palpable. You’ll get anonymous questions such as, ‘when are senior officials going to stop sweeping bad behaviour of other senior officials under the carpet?’.”

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“We know that isn’t true,” the source added. “But the challenge has been that we don’t communicate.”

The number of cases is likely underestimated largely because many GAC employees fear reprisal if they blow the whistle on wrongdoing, the report noted.

“We have also heard that fear of reprisal and a belief that complaints do not make a difference are consistently the top reasons why Global Affairs Canada employees do not report bad behaviour when they are a victim of it or when they witness it,” the report said.

The department determined that 56 cases of misconduct and wrongdoing were found to have basis between April 1, 2022 and March 30, 2023.

Of that number, three were for harassment and violence, 23 were for administrative misconduct, four were related to issues with security clearance and one was for fraud and financial misconduct. Over a dozen involved individuals were fired or resigned, whereas the rest were either suspended, written up or had notes added to their security files.

For example, one unnamed employee was fired after being caught using a GAC position “to facilitate the awarding of contracts and engaged in bid-rigging with a view to benefit family members. The employee also tried to purchase a Crown-owned property using privileged information,” the report notes.

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Another GAC employee resigned after an investigation found the employee had made “inappropriate comments, bulled and harassed their subordinates” and also “engaged in repeated unwanted touching and aggressive romantic pursuit” of female colleagues while at work.

A handful of employees were also sanctioned for misusing government material including vehicles, such as one who was fired for borrowing a car without permission, driving it while intoxicated and getting into a “serious accident” that led to a criminal conviction.

The senior GAC executive interviewed for this story said part of the challenge in detecting and eliminating misconduct in the department is the fact that so many employees work in remote missions far from the eyes of their bosses and human resources.

That issue is illustrated by a case where a GAC executive in an unidentified foreign mission witnessed their spouse mistreat an employee working at their official residence abroad and then condoned the abuse by giving the local worker a negative evaluation.

“It highlights the challenge of ensuring a culture of zero-tolerance in a highly dispersed organization,” the official said in an interview. “But it also shows that the systems of justice work.”

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By improving transparency into investigations and sanctions, GAC expects the number of cases reported to increase and will act as a deterrent and prevent misconduct.

The report also said GAC leaders are working on ways to streamline various complaint and investigation processes to make them faster and less complex for complainants and alleged wrongdoers.

For example, investigations into both wrongdoing in the workplace and harassment and violence usually take one year to complete, whereas there is no set timeline to complete probes into fraud, financial misconduct or values and ethics breaches.

“It needs to be faster, than is very clear. It is slow, often because of the need to ensure due process, but… justice delayed is justice denied,” the senior executive said, adding that timeliness of investigations would be covered further in the 2023-2024 report.

National Post

cnardi@postmedia.com

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