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Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet is shown in Ottawa in this June 19, 2007 file photo. (PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet is shown in Ottawa in this June 19, 2007 file photo. (PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Integrity Commission to submit more than 200 complaints to outside review Add to ...

The man who was acting head of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner's office says the agency has regrouped after the former commissioner abruptly retired in the face of a damning audit, and it will submit more than 200 complaints that were never investigated to an outside review.

"We do have some very complex and lengthy investigations under way right now involving multiple allegations, multiple disclosures of different types of wrong-doing …," Joe Friday told a Commons committee on Tuesday.

In fact, there are now 15 such investigations being conducted - more than twice the number opened during the three-year tenure of former commissioner Christiane Ouimet, Mr. Friday told MPs.

In addition, he said, the Public Sector Integrity Commission (PSIC) is "prepared to have all of our files reviewed externally by an expert and we will be raising this as a priority with an interim commissioner, Mr. Mario Dion. We want to make sure that the decisions in them are fully supported, clearly analyzed and defensible," he said.

Mr. Friday's testimony before the Commons public accounts committee came just minutes after Treasury Board President Stockwell Day announced he had appointed Mr. Dion to head the commission for the next six months, effectively replacing Mr. Friday at the agency responsible for fielding allegations of wrongdoing from federal whistleblowers.

An audit released last week by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser - the same review that preceded Ms. Ouimet's departure - found that there were 228 disclosures of wrongdoing or allegations of reprisals from public servants received by the commission during Ms. Ouimet's time in office. Just seven were investigated and there was never a finding of wrongdoing.

Mr. Day said he expected that Mr. Dion, who was also the former chairman of the National Parole Board and the executive director of the Office of Indian Residential Schools Resolution of Canada, would take a second look at the complaints that were rejected.

Mr. Friday told the Commons committee that the commission is not only prepared to have those files reviewed but is committed to "working diligently to ensure that we are carrying out this work in a positive and mutually collaborative professional environment."

The PSIC has hired an internal conflict manager to deal with issues arising in the office that experienced a turnover rate of 50 per cent annually between 2007 and 2009. Ms. Fraser's audit said Ms. Ouimet had berated and belittled her employees while seeking reprisals against those she believed to be conspiring against her.

One thing made clear as a result of Mr. Friday's testimony is that the legislation that created the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner's office allows - or even requires - complaints to be dismissed for any number of reasons.

If another investigation related to allegations is already under way, the commission is barred from acting on that, Mr. Friday said.

If the commission discovers that a criminal activity might have occurred, it must stop its investigation and refer it to the appropriate police authority.

Wrongdoing alleged by anyone other than a federal public servant cannot be investigated by the commission.

And, if there is another body that is better able to handle an allegation - the Human Rights Commission, for instance - the Public Sector Integrity Commission will bow out rather than duplicate an investigation, Mr. Friday said.

As to why the auditor found that Ms. Ouimet had asked her employees to assemble four binders of information on a former staffer whom she believed to have lodged a complaint against her, Mr. Friday said the former commissioner was merely collecting information required to prepare herself for the audit.

The committee had asked Ms. Ouimet and Wayne Wouters, the Clerk of the Privy Council, to appear before it on Tuesday, but neither showed up at the meeting. Mr. Wouters was otherwise occupied, and Ms. Ouimet could not be located. Despite the fact that she is receiving a pension, the government could not find her address, and calls to her telephone number were not returned.

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