Canada Embroiled in Privacy Furore

Canada Embroiled in Privacy Furore

Things are getting truly nasty in Canada, where Auditor-General Sheila Fraser has called on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to investigate the nation’s former privacy commissioner, amidst a litany of criticism about the way he ran his office.

Fraser issued a damning report on what she says were major abuses by George Radwanski late last month, claiming the scope of the abuses, cronyism, extravagance and misuse of taxpayers' funds revealed by her investigation went beyond her "wildest dreams."

The long-awaited report had exposed abuses so large that — according to The National Post — they “shocked MPs, bureaucrats and even ministers who say they had no idea of the ‘reign of terror’ and management free-for-all that existed at the commission under George Radwanski, who was named commissioner in the fall of 2000.”

Fraser’s 47-page report makes for disturbing reading, revealing wanton abuse of taxpayers money and suggesting Radwanski had run his office in an "environment of fear" which led to a breakdown of controls over spending, hiring practices and management.

The report shows Radwanski and his senior staff ignored the government's own Financial Administration Act, awarded lucrative consulting contracts without competition and engaged in widespread nepotism, hiring “friends, acquaintances or former colleagues” at will and paying them at least 50 per cent over the odds as allowed by pubic service rules. It found eight of 10 executives, and 15 of 17 junior employees examined had their position descriptions inflated beyond the jobs they were performing so they could be paid salaries well in excess of the allowable limit for civil servants with their actual qualifications and duties.

Indeed the report demonstrates seven of former Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski's acquaintances got jobs during his tenure and many job competitions were rigged as part of a "culture of fear and favour" in the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, a Public Service Commission audit has found.

The audit has prompted Canada’s Public Service Commission to open eight investigations: one to examine officials in charge of staffing and seven to look at specific appointments including possible instances of fraud. Some appointments seem likely to be revoked.

Meanwhile the Canadian Government is holding back Radwanski's $80,000 severance package until a forensic audit team reviews all his travel and hospitality expenses to determine how much he owes Canadian taxpayers.

Interim Privacy Commissioner Robert Marleau has also moved quickly to discipline employees and begin the recovery of the more than $200,000 Fraser found had been improperly spent. The RCMP may also expand its investigation to include other irregularities highlighted by the audit, including $294,000 in "unnecessary" travel advances and a mysterious $99,000 lump-sum payment to a laid-off executive who collected a $54,000 severance, was entitled to a full pension, and was offered another job in government.

Marleau has also called in forensic auditors to examine every claim and bill for the $525,000 Radwanski and senior director-general of communications Dona Vallières spent on travel.

Radwanski meanwhile clearly has no intention of going quietly, issuing a fax the day before the report’s release intended to be a pre-emptive strike against the Auditor-General's report.

He called the report a “vicious personal attack”, said it was not factually accurate and condemned Fraser as never intending to produce a fair or accurate report and described the audit as "factually wrong or distorted."

"Anyone concerned with fairness and decency should ask some very tough questions about what is going on," he said.

Fraser was asked to conduct an audit of the privacy commission when Radwanski resigned amid allegations of misspending and misleading Parliament.

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