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Auditor-General Sheila Fraser holds a news conference after the release of her report in Ottawa on April 20, 2010. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Auditor-General Sheila Fraser holds a news conference after the release of her report in Ottawa on April 20, 2010. (FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD

Who was watching the watchdog? Add to ...

Although the travel and hospitality expenses filed by former federal integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet are largely unremarkable, a couple of entries are utterly terrifying.

They seem so banal - expense claims for modest business lunches, both in Ottawa, one for $32.95, the other for $44.83.

It's the accompanying descriptions that are so jarring, respectively "working lunch with a Senior Ethics Officer for mentoring" and "working lunch to discuss mentoring."

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Now, Ms. Ouimet was at the time of her appointment by Prime Minister Stephen Harper three years ago already a veteran public servant, hailed for a 25-year career in which she served as an associate deputy minister in two ministries and the executive director of the Immigration and Refugee board and worked for a total of eight different government departments and agencies.

A lawyer by training, Ms. Ouimet clearly would not have been deemed at the time to be in need of mentoring herself, not with that background.

Presumably then, these lunches were either so she could mentor the senior ethics officer (also a scary prospect), or to plan with him/her how she might recruit a protégé for mentoring purposes.

Let us pray I am terribly wrong and just not alert to the Ottawa way of doing things, because if ever there was a civil servant unsuited to mentor anyone, it's this woman. God forbid there is a mini-her on the loose in the capital, having been trained in the Ouimet fashion.

I refer, of course, to the damning indictment of Ms. Ouimet's performance released last week by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser.

Ms. Ouimet took early retirement this fall, mere weeks after her final interviews with the Auditor-General's office.

Ms. Fraser received three complaints about her, the first two involving allegations of bullying employees (no doubt why the office had a 50-per-cent turnover rate for the first two years of operation).

The third, far more serious, alleged that Ms. Ouimet, believing that a particular employee had complained about her to the AG, released a shower of his personal information to other senior government officials and to a private-sector firm, all apparently designed to ensure he never again got work with the federal public service.

In other words, the person in charge of protecting whistle-blowers from employer retribution retaliated with viciousness against someone she herself perceived - wrongly, as it turns out - as a whistleblower.

According to Ms. Fraser, who in her usual thorough manner interviewed a total of 24 of Ms. Ouimet's former employees and another 10 who are still working there, Ms. Ouimet not only disclosed personal information about this man, but also prepared and circulated it within her office - to the tune of "four binders comprising 96 documents and totalling more than 375 pages of information about him," plus "at least 50 e-mails about him" - and involved at least six of her staff in what appears to have been second only to The Hunt for Red October.

"As a direct result of the commissioner's actions against the complainant," Ms. Fraser concluded, "senior government officials in three government organizations, individuals at a private sector security company, and a number of PSIC [Public Sector Integrity Commissioner]rdquo; staff were provided information concerning the commissioner's opinions about the complainant's character, health and performance.

Bad enough that she had spread the man's private information far and wide, believing him a rat who had complained about her.

But she was dead wrong, as Ms. Fraser found. Ms. Ouimet did all this "at a time when he had not yet made a complaint to the Auditor General and more than six to eight months after he had resigned from public service."

The Auditor-General confirmed, via interviews (Ms. Ouimet in hers essentially denied all the allegations and pronounced herself as having acted always in good faith) and documents, every complaint against her.

She was a bully who intimated her staff and treated them badly. She mostly sat on her bum for three years, rarely rousing herself to investigate complaints (of a total of 228, Ms. Ouimet launched a grand total of five formal investigations and, guess what, found that none were substantiated).

What else did she do in her "long and distinguished" career, as the farewell press release about her retirement called it? Who was watching the watchdog? And why didn't the folks in other government agencies act when they received, presumably unsolicited, the picked-over carcass of Ms. Ouimet's favourite target?

The government, and the bureaucracy, have much to answer for here. God willing someone will be asking the right questions.

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