3 former civil servants file $1.8M suit against former P.E.I. premier, government agency over privacy breach

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Three former government employees who raised concerns about P.E.I.’s provincial nominee program in 2011 have filed a lawsuit against former premier Robert Ghiz, a provincial Crown corporation and others.

A statement of claim was filed in P.E.I. Supreme Court Thursday on behalf of Susan Holmes, Cora Plourd Nicholson and Svetlana Tenetko.

The three women, who call themselves whistleblowers, are seeking $1.8 million in damages plus a further undisclosed amount representing loss of income and out-of-pocket expenses in the aftermath of a privacy breach.

A report from P.E.I.’s privacy commissioner released in Dec. 2017 concluded government was either directly or indirectly responsible for a privacy breach where personal information about the three women was leaked to the P.E.I. Liberal Party during the 2011 election campaign.

Also named in the suit, besides Ghiz and the provincial Crown lending agency Island Investment Development Inc., are former innovation minister Allan Campbell, former deputy minister of innovation Michael Mayne and a lawyer involved with the Liberal Party, Spencer Campbell. 

When reached Thursday afternoon, former premier Robert Ghiz said he had no comment as the issue is before the courts. CBC has not yet been able to reach the other individual defendants.

Susan Holmes is shown at her home in Moncton, N.B., in January 2018. She has said she won’t fade away without being compensated for the economic and emotional toll on her life. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)

Personal information leaked to Liberal Party

The three women, who had all worked for the provincial government, made national headlines in September 2011 with allegations of bribery and fraud within P.E.I.’s provincial nominee program.

Later the same day, the Liberal Party of P.E.I. issued a media release that included personal information about the three women, including work histories, details about a human rights complaint and personal emails.

Spencer Campbell, speaking for the Liberal Party at the time, said the information had been leaked to the party and he didn’t know where it came from.

« The Liberal Party is not subject to the information and protection of privacy legislation in this province, » Campbell said at the time.

6-year investigation concluded breach happened

After an investigation that took six years, P.E.I.’s Privacy Commissioner Karen Rose concluded the information had come from government.

Rose said one of two things happened: either, « someone within Economic Development and/or the Premier’s Office and/or Executive Council … deliberately disclosed the personal information to the Liberal Party of PEI, » or, she said, an unknown third party deliberately disclosed the information because those three government bodies « failed to make reasonable security arrangements to prevent unauthorized disclosure to the Liberal Party of PEI. »

In either case, the commissioner concluded a breach of the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act occurred.

In their statement of claim, the three litigants say Ghiz, Mayne, Allan Campbell and others « conspired with each other and with [Spencer] Campbell and the P.E.I. Liberal Party by knowingly and unlawfully publicly disclosing private information … with the predominant purpose of harming the plaintiffs. »

Allegations not proven in court

They say the defendants acted « with a common design, to injure, embarrass, intimidate and promote bias against the plaintiffs » and should have known « their acts would, in fact, cause harm to the plaintiffs. »

Holmes, Plourd Nicholson and Tenetko say they suffered depression, mental anxiety, loss of income and costs of « moving and uprooting their lives. »

The allegations have not been proven in court.

Investigations by RCMP and border services into the women’s allegations regarding the PNP did not result in any charges.

A spokesperson for the province told CBC News the government is reviewing the statement of claim and referred to the statement provided by current Premier Wade MacLauchlan when the privacy commissioner released her report in 2017.

That statement noted the privacy breach occurred « under the previous government, and the key players involved are not a part of the current administration.

« This is something that would not have been, and will not be, tolerated under this current government, » the statement read. « We do business differently. »

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Attempt to engage Manitoba’s civil service with garden gnome mascot insulting, tone-deaf: union

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An attempt by the Manitoba government to better engage with its employees — using a ceramic garden gnome — has come up short, says the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

Just before the holiday break, government employees were sent an email from the head of the province’s civil service, introducing them to Gerome G. Gnome — a garden gnome billed as the government’s « engagement champion. »

« The purpose of Gerome is to facilitate engagement, through sharing stories and highlighting the inspiring work of our public servants in a fun and light-hearted way, » reads the Dec. 21 email to government employees from Fred Meier, clerk of the executive council.

The email also included an introduction from « Gerome » — written in the first person.

« I come from a long line of gnomes who have been featured in European myths and legends, » the introduction reads.

The email included photos of the garden gnome at various locations across Manitoba.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union says the government’s use of a ceramic garden gnome as a way to engage with the civil service is poorly timed. (Government of Manitoba illustration)

« Now that social media is a ‘thing,’ families are taking their gnomes on vacations and taking photos of them in unique and memorable locations, » Gerome’s introduction reads.

« This is a great way to appreciate gnomes, as we do love seeing the world. »

The email also promises that Gerome will be visiting government workplaces.

« I can’t wait to meet you and help you share your stories about what you do, how you do it, and why it’s so cool and important, » the email says.

‘Insensitive’ in light of cuts: MGEU

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, calls the move « insensitive » in light of the Progressive Conservative government’s pledge to cut 1,200 civil service jobs and the coming expiration of a no-layoff clause that has protected government jobs.

The clause expires March 29, when the government’s agreement with the public sector lapses.

« Timing is everything, » said Gawronsky of the gnome’s appearance.

« We are all for meaningful engagement and strong communication … but right now, when the people who deliver our public services are facing so much uncertainty … sending a ceramic statue around to government offices feels a little tone-deaf, » she said.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, calls Gerome G. Gnome a ‘tone-deaf’ engagement tactic. (Travis Golby/CBC)

« The vast majority of our members are looking for something a bit more meaningful — stability in their jobs, ensuring that they have the ability to make their mortgage payments and feed their children, » said Gawronsky.

« These are adults that are providing needed services to Manitoba.… It just feels so, so wrong in my book. It just feels so insulting. »

MGEU officials have said they know of around 150 government jobs that will be cut through privatization and contracting out, including about 50 each in special operations and Manitoba Government Air Services, 30 positions at the provincially run tree nursery, eight jobs in French translation services and up to 11 jobs in the government’s real estate services division.

‘We are trying to increase dialogue’

In the email sent to employees, Meier said the idea for Gerome came from a group of public servants, and the campaign was launched after an employee engagement survey was conducted.

The survey saw response from over 7,000 employees — a participation rate of just slightly better than 50 per cent.

In a statement to CBC News, Meier said the gnome was introduced as a way to spur communication while changes are implemented to the public service through the government’s civil service transformation strategy, launched last February.

« The public service is in the midst of significant change. In past surveys, we have heard from employees that they want more communication from leadership, » reads the statement.

« The gnome is one of several ways that we are trying to increase dialogue within the public service regarding engagement, allowing department leadership and employees to use it as a way to encourage dialogue and share achievements within their departments and beyond. »

While she appreciates the effort to open lines of communication between employees and the government, Gawronsky said Gerome G. Gnome isn’t the way to go about it.

« We don’t need a ceramic statue to sit in between us while we communicate. » 


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Peter Khill files statement of defence in $2M civil suit saying Styres acted ‘menacing’

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Peter Khill, who was acquitted of murder after he killed a Six Nations man on his property, has filed a statement of defence in a more than $2 million civil suit brought by the man’s spouse and two young daughters.

In court documents filed on Nov. 2, the Hamilton-area homeowner denies Jon Styres’ family suffered the injuries, losses and damages described in their statement of claim and rejects most of the other points raised in the suit filed by Hamilton’s Hooper Law Offices.

Khill, a former Canadian Forces reservist, admitted he shot and killed Styres in Feb. 2016. He was found not-guilty of second-degree murder in June after a two-week trial in Hamilton Superior Court.

Khill’s statement of defence takes the same position as he did in his criminal trial, that he fired in self-defence. His civil case defence also claims he felt an « immediate threat of death and/or serious bodily harm » to both him and his wife when he woke up around 3 a.m. and saw someone had broken into his truck.

The defence rejects the lawsuit’s claim Khill fired « suddenly and without warning » and that he intentionally shot to kill the 29-year-old man from Ohsweken on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve as he « fled. »

The direction Styres was facing when he was shot was a point of contention during the criminal trial, with prosecutors arguing blood spatter evidence showed he was facing toward the truck and the defence claiming he was facing away.

Investigators marked 74 separate specks of blood inside the passenger side of Peter Khill’s truck. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

In his statement, Khill says he knew a garage door opener in his truck could be used by Styres to gain access to the house leaving him to fear a « potentially armed home invasion » was imminent.

The defence adds Styres was « acting in a menacing and or threatening way. »

In their lawsuit, Styres’ family said Khill made no attempt to contact the authorities before confronting him. But in his statement, Khill denies this, despite testifying during the criminal trial that his actions that night were dictated by his military training, which did not include calling 911.

None of the allegations in the suit have been tested in civil court.

Brian Simo, the lawyer representing Khill, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on his client’s defence.

Khill claimed self-defence

In the criminal trial, a jury found Khill, who is white, not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter in Styres’ death.

The former military reservist never denied firing the two close-range shotgun blasts that killed the First Nations man, but said he pulled the trigger because he was following his training and believed Styres was armed with a gun.

Khill never denied shooting Styres twice with this 12 gauge shotgun at close range, but maintains he fired is self-defence. (Ministry of the Attorney General)

Court heard Styres did not have a gun. He did have a folding knife, but it was closed and found by police in the pocket of his pants.

Public reaction to the verdict was deeply divided. Some some supported the decision, while others pointed to race as factor in the jury’s decision despite each juror being screened for bias during the selection process.

The case drew comparisons the death of Colten Boushie, a 22-year-old from the Red Pheasant Cree Nation, who was shot and killed by Gerald Stanley, a white farmer, in Saskatchewan.

A jury with no visibly Indigenous jurors reached its not guilty verdict for Stanley in August 2016. The decision led to outrage across the country and a pledge from federal ministers and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to change « systemic issues » in the justice system.

Following the Khill verdict, Indigenous leaders and activists also called for changes to Canada’s justice system and for the verdict to be appealed.

Family and friends of Jon Styres hug outside court after hearing Khill was found not guilty on June 27, 2018. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald issued a statement describing Styres as « another victim of senseless violence. »

« This sort of extreme violence – shooting an unarmed man – is not acceptable in Canada, » she said. « No one should place the value of a possession over the sacred life of a human being. »

In August the Crown announced it is appealing the not guilty verdict on the basis that Superior Court Justice Stephen Glithero failed to properly instruct the jury about self-defence and let an unqualified witness give opinion evidence on military training.

The lawsuit launched by Styres’s spouse, Lindsay Hill and her two daughters was filed on Jan. 31, 2018.

In it the family claims damages of $2 million, aggravated and punitive damages of $250,000, pre and post-judgement interest and any other costs the court deems just.

The damages are based on « mental distress, » a loss of income and services from Styres as well as a loss of « care, guidance and companionship as the result of his death. »

A trial date has not yet been set.

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