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A worker makes adjusts the witness chair intended for Christiane Ouimet, the former integrity commissioner, at a Commons committee hearing in Ottawa on Feb. 8, 2011. (REUTERS)
A worker makes adjusts the witness chair intended for Christiane Ouimet, the former integrity commissioner, at a Commons committee hearing in Ottawa on Feb. 8, 2011. (REUTERS)

Disgraced integrity czar's $500,000 severance deal includes gag order Add to ...

The former public sector integrity commissioner who resigned last fall in the face of a damning audit walked away with a half million dollars - and a promise to keep her mouth shut

According to the departure agreement signed between Christiane Ouimet and the federal government, Ms. Ouimet received as separation allowance of $407,000. That includes 18 months of regular salary plus foregone benefits worth $53,100.

Ms. Ouimet was also entitled to "all benefits accruing to retiring appointees." And she received severance pay equivalent to 28 weeks of her salary - about $120,000 - as well as any unused vacation time.

In return, Ms. Ouimet promised to keep confidential all information related to the office of Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and not to disclose details of the departure agreement.

The deal stipulates that "the parties shall not engage in any criticism against each other, personally or through other person (sic) including media representatives." Nor were they permitted to make any public comments about Ms. Ouimet's departure.

Ms. Ouimet is to appear before the Commons public-accounts committee on March 10. The committee has been trying to call her to testify for a couple of months and has issued summonses but she is out of the country and the edicts apply only in Canada.

A report by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser has found that during the three years Ms. Ouimet was head of the agency that fields complaints from public-sector whistleblowers, there were 228 disclosures of wrongdoing. Seven were investigated, five were closed with no finding of wrongdoing, and two remained under investigation at the time of Ms. Fraser's audit.

The audit also found that Ms. Ouimet harassed and berated her employees and sought reprisals against those she suspected of trying to undermine her.

Although she was the person in charge of fielding complaints from federal whistleblowers - an office that demands an arm's length relationship with the government - letters and emails obtained by The Canadian Press show she had tried to meet with Treasury Board President Stockwell Day and did meet with his predecessor, Vic Toews.

She also met with top bureaucrat Wayne Wouters, against the advice of her predecessor, who warned she needed to maintain a healthy distance from the apparatus of government. And she exchanged emails with officials in the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister's Office, about some allegations of wrongdoing.

The agreement between the government and Ms. Ouimet was signed by Privy Council Clerk Wayne Wouters. A PCO spokesman said Friday that he could not discuss the matter for reasons of privacy.

It's not the first time that a civil servant who has left their position under difficult circumstances has received a settlement amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When former Liberal cabinet minister David Dingwall was forced to resign as president of the Royal Canadian Mint in 2005 he was ultimately paid more than $400,000. That infuriated Stephen Harper who was then leader of the opposition Conservatives.

"There is no common law saying the government has to pay severance to someone who voluntarily quits. That may be the common practice of the Liberal Party, but it is not the common law," Mr. Harper told the Commons in October of that year.

"Given that there is no requirement to pay severance to someone who quits voluntarily, and given that Mr. Dingwall received hundreds of thousands of dollars he should not have received, why is the prime minister contemplating giving him any money at all?"

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