Federal Watchdog Goes Into Attack Mode

By: Ellen A. S. Low
In 2007, the Harper government hired Christiane Ouimet as a federal integrity commissioner.  Ouimet’s job was to field complaints, and to protect whistleblowers in the federal public service.  However, it appears that instead of protecting these employees, Ouimet may have become their worst enemy.
As discussed in a series of recent news articles (here and here), Ouimet recently resigned in the face of multiple allegations of workplace bullying.  She allegedly swore, berated and belittled staff on a consistent basis.
In one extreme example Ms. Ouimet is said to have retaliated against an employee she suspected of making a complaint against her by amassing 6 binders of personal information about him then systematically disclosing that information to his previous employer, senior government officials, and a private-sector security consultant.
Her behaviour and retaliatory attitude apparently contributed to a 50% turn-over rate in her department as well as a number of early retirements. Average turnover rates vary by industry, but are usually only between 20 to 30%.
Ms. Ouimet may embody what not to do as an employer in the face of a complaint.  When an employer receives a complaint about workplace bullying and harassment, there is an implied duty not only to investigate the allegation, but to ensure that there is a complaint mechanism in place, that the investigation is prompt, the complaint treated seriously, and that the complainant should be kept in the loop about the investigation process. Employers who are unsure of how to conduct an investigation ought to contact a qualified employment lawyer for guidance on the process; A botched investigation could be the difference between a successful for-cause termination and a wrongful dismissal claim.
In the meanwhile, Ms. Ouimet has been banished to the dog house.  She took early retirement this fall following the release of Auditor-General Sheila Fraser’s scathing report on her behaviour.