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A top civil servant who joined staff from a federally funded, native-run treatment centre for a recent Caribbean cruise, travelled 137 times on business at taxpayer expense in the past three years, Health Canada records show.

Ottawa-based Paul Cochrane, until recently an assistant deputy minister of health, was joined on about 100 of the trips by his assistant, Aline Dirks.

Much of the travel was to Canadian destinations.

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But Hawaii, Barbados, Peru, Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, London, Oslo and several U.S. cities were also government-paid destinations for Mr. Cochrane.

The information comes from a request under the Access to Information Act on travel by Mr. Cochrane and Ms. Dirks from March, 1997, to the end of August this year.

Mr. Cochrane was head of the First Nations and Inuit Health Services Branch at the time, but is now on paid leave from the government.

Ms. Dirks, who began an unpaid two-year leave of absence from Health Canada on Nov. 6, is listed as taking most of the same domestic trips and about half of the foreign trips. Mr. Cochrane and Ms. Dirks and their spouses joined 70 staff of the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation Inc. on a Carnival Lines cruise ship tour of the western Caribbean Oct. 16-22. The two bureaucrats say they paid their own way.

The treatment centre, run by the foundation and funded by an agreement Mr. Cochrane worked out, has been at the centre of controversy since the trip was reported by The Globe and Mail.

On his government travels, Mr. Cochrane often stayed in five-star hotels and resorts. In Barbados, for example, in November, 1998, the government paid for him to stay a week at Sam Lord's Castle, where rooms cost $200 to $400 (U.S.) per night.

In New Zealand, both Mr. Cochrane and Ms. Dirks stayed at the Rydges Rotorua Hotel during one 17-day visit.

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On a trip to Calgary earlier this year, they stayed at the Banff Springs Hotel.

Mr. Cochrane stayed at the Park Royal Canberra and Hotel Grand Chancellor in Australia, the Sol De Oro in Lima, Peru, the Resort Suites in Phoenix, the Maui Seaside and Hale Pohaku in Hawaii, and the Remington in Washington, D.C.

The documents detailing the travel do not include costs, or reasons for the trips.

Health Canada spokesman Jeff Pender refused to say whether Mr. Cochrane's 391 working days of travel in the 1997-to-2000 period was unusual.

"There's a lot of travelling involved in those types of jobs," Mr. Pender said. "He did a lot of travelling and was a bit of an ambassador."

The Globe has no evidence the trips were not approved by a superior and no way to know how many trips an assistant deputy minister takes on average in a year.

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What is unusual, several sources within the department say, is that Mr. Cochrane took his assistant with him virtually everywhere.

The Virginia Fontaine treatment centre, and Health Canada's funding of native health programs, have been mired in controversy ever since the Caribbean junket was first reported in The Globe on Oct. 18.

Health Minister Allan Rock immediately ordered a forensic audit of the centre and then suspended funding to the 78-bed facility northeast of Winnipeg when officials allegedly refused to co-operate with a full examination of the books.

Last week, Health Canada announced it is suing the treatment centre for $5-million, claiming misuse of public funds.

The department also has gone to court to force a full audit of the treatment centre's financial records while embarking on an internal review of what officials describe as an irregular pattern of financial transactions in the Manitoba region of the First Nations and Inuit Health Services Branch.

Managers of the treatment centre contend the Caribbean cruise was paid for by the proceeds of local bingos and that no public funds were used.

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But they admit paying Mr. Cochrane, who approved funding for the centre, $3,700 for Hawaiian research a few weeks before the Caribbean "professional development" cruise.

Mr. Cochrane was not in a conflict of interest, the treatment centre's president has said, because it was his understanding that Mr. Cochrane was seconded from Health Canada to another Manitoba-based native-run health organization, Anishinaabe Mino-Ayaawin, at the time.

AMA runs a variety of services for Health Canada on seven southern Manitoba reserves.

Health Canada says it is reviewing whether Mr. Cochrane was in conflict of interest when he undertook the Hawaiian research on behalf of AMA. He was on personal leave at the time. It is not known whether he actually travelled to Hawaii.

Officials at AMA said they knew nothing of any Hawaiian research. And Mr. Cochrane's planned secondment to that organization -- never executed in writing -- fell apart when he was summoned back to Ottawa from the Caribbean.

Mr. Cochrane has refused comment since the Caribbean cruise.

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The official government travel records, which show 137 foreign and domestic business destinations for Mr. Cochrane and 100 where Ms. Dirks accompanied her boss, were obtained for The Globe through Access to Information requests by consultant Ken Rubin in Ottawa.

While the record does not indicate the purposes of the trips, Mr. Cochrane's trip to Norway last June coincided with the 11th International Congress for Circumpolar Health in Harstad. Ms. Dirks did not claim her expenses for that particular Norwegian trip from Health Canada.

However, Health Canada approved $200,000 in two equal instalments in April and August this year for conference travel for the AMA organization: trips to Norway, South Africa and New Zealand.

At least six AMA staff, along with Ms. Dirks, had their Norwegian trip and expenses covered by AMA.

Ms. Dirks is currently employed by AMA as an Ottawa consultant.

Before Mr. Cochrane began his paid leave from the government Sept. 1, he authorized a new five-year, $35-million funding agreement for the Virginia Fontaine Treatment Centre. And his department virtually doubled its funding commitment for AMA, to a total of about $6.3-million a year.

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The $35-million deal with the Virginia Fontaine Centre was signed by Mr. Cochrane over a luncheon in Ottawa on July 1. Mr. Cochrane's signature on behalf of the Crown was witnessed by Ms. Dirks, who was seconded half-time to the Virginia Fontaine Centre at the time.

In an interview, Ms. Dirks was asked whether she felt she may have been in a conflict of interest, witnessing a $35-million agreement on behalf of the Crown while simultaneously being employed by the beneficiary of the contract. "In my mind it's not a conflict," she said.

Ms. Dirks's secondment to the Virginia Fontaine Centre, where she worked from March on a $300,000-a-year project funded by Health Canada to help co-ordinate an event called the World Healing Our Spirit Conference, was revoked by the department on Sept. 29.

She said this occurred because Health Canada officials discovered that the department, not the treatment centre, was paying her salary.

"I'm almost sorry I signed the damn thing," Ms. Dirks said of the $35-million transfer agreement between Health Canada and the Virginia Fontaine Addictions Foundation. "Because [Health Canada]is going to come back at me now."

Directors and about 20 staff of the Virginia Fontaine centre have taken several trips to New Zealand recently, for conferences and cultural exchanges.

Both Mr. Cochrane and Ms. Dirks officially attended a conference in New Zealand, along with treatment centre staff, in 1998.

Several Maori visitors from New Zealand also were on the recent Caribbean trip.

But one former employee of the treatment centre, Barb Gervais, said her 1999 New Zealand cultural exchange experience, during which she hoped to learn more about traditional Maori religious culture, proved less useful than she had expected.

"The native people they put us with were Mormons," she said.

Frequent traveller

Government trips taken since March, 1997 by Ottawa-based Paul Cochrane. March 1997 Winnipeg April Sioux Lookout, Ont. Mont Tremblant, Que. Winnipeg Calgary Winnipeg May Montreal Winnipeg June Charlo, N.B. Winnipeg Halifax Winnipeg Dawson City, Yukon Vancouver July Winnipeg Edmonton Calgary Geneva, Switzerland August Toronto Winnipeg Winnipeg September Halifax Halifax Calgary October Winnipeg Toronto November Chicago Winnipeg Toronto Winnipeg December Mont Tremblant January 1998 Calgary Saskatoon Winnipeg Los Angeles February Winnipeg March Halifax Toronto Winnipeg April Toronto Winnipeg Halifax May Regina Winnipeg Edmonton Calgary St. John's June Winnipeg St. John's London, England July Winnipeg Vancouver August Edmonton Winnipeg September Winnipeg Regina Winnipeg Toronto October Thunder Bay Vancouver Toronto Quebec Mont Tremblant November Toronto Barbados Halifax December Winnipeg St. John's Toronto January 1999 Winnipeg Vancouver February Halifax Winnipeg Winnipeg Vancouver March Mont Tremblant Regina Halifax May Winnipeg Vancouver St. John's Lima, Peru June Winnipeg July St. John's Toronto Toronto Calgary Edmonton August Winnipeg Winnipeg Toronto Winnipeg Edmonton September Winnipeg Charlottetown Antigonish, N.S. Calgary Toronto Saint-Foy, Que. Halifax October Antigonish, N.S. Halifax Winnipeg November Regina Maui, Hawaii Winnipeg December San Diego January 2000 Winnipeg Toronto Quebec February Winnipeg Phoenix Toronto Vancouver March Vancouver Winnipeg April Regina Halifax Winnipeg Vancouver Halifax May Halifax Winnipeg Goose Bay, Nfld. Halifax June Arcticus, Harstad, Norway July Winnipeg Montebello August Winnipeg Halifax Akwasasne Edmonton Winnipeg

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