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Winnipeg "integrity commissioner" under fire; politicians turn a blind eye

How dysfunctional is Winnipeg as a city? 

You mean apart from the former mayor and his hand-picked chief civil servant being investigated for taking (alleged) kickbacks on -- wait for it -- the construction of a new police department headquarters?

Or the shiny new $300 million water treatment plant plagued by exploding generators and a leaky roof, a scenario straight out of The Simpsons?

Or the fancy replacement football stadium that was built to take the team out of debt by generating so much more revenue only to mire the team in inescapable debt for the next 50 years because of the cost?

Well, how about this...

Winnipeg's newly anointed "Integrity Commissioner" was hired last week despite being enveloped in a cloud of controversy involving a blatant breach of privacy and a shameless violation of confidentiality.


You didn't hear a word about that in the news stories promoting lawyer Sherri Walsh in her new post?

That means you didn't hear that a newly-uncovered provincial government document fingers Walsh as the sole suspect in exposing the names of a group of staff members and clients of the  Native Women’s Transition Centre, who were pleading for relief from "bullying, verbal abuse, harassment and laterally violent behaviors" that had turned the centre into a toxic workplace.

Their complaints were against the centre's executive director, Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair. Who happens to be the wife of Judge Murray Sinclair, now a Trudeau appointed Canadian Senator.

A bundle of written complaints against Katherine Sinclair were provided to Walsh in along with a letter from Joy Cramer, Deputy Minister, Family Services, stating "I am forwarding these letters on the understanding that these are strictly confidential..."

The women discovered within a week that their names had been handed to the very person they were complaining about, leaving them open to retaliation.  The women were eventually notified by the Department that only two people had access to the letters of complaint, and one of them had been cleared. 

The other? Sherri Walsh.

Cramer promised an investigation into how their names were leaked. The women are still waiting to hear back from her. It’ll be a long wait considering she was invited to leave the Legislature by the new Pallister government and departed.

Walsh became chairman of the NWTC in on June 1st, 2015. Two weeks later she was informed of the turmoil within the provincially-funded centre and advised by Joy Cramer that  the issues "require immediate attention." It was mid-July when the confidentiality promised the women who were complaining was violated, while Walsh had done nothing to alleviate or investigate the situation.

According to documents uncovered by a freedom-of-information request, the province went back to Walsh two months later, in September, to say that even more complaints about the NWTC had been received. Walsh informed the province she didn't want to be “micromanaged” and HR concerns about Mrs. Sinclair should be sent along to … her.

By mid-December 2015, the women had had enough. Employees made a formal complaint to Workplace Health and Safety about the toxic workplace at the NWTC and filed it with the Board, chaired by Walsh. 

Lo and behold, early in the new year they learned, from Sherri Walsh, no less,  that Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair had resigned and, guess what, an investigation of their complaints was “not warranted’. Within weeks, her husband, the Judge became her husband, the Senator.

The government documents tell a depressing story. 
·        A prominent lawyer is appointed to head a government-funded native women's agency. 
·        She's told there are personnel issues that require immediate attention.
·        She turns a blind eye to the mismanagement of the agency for seven months, telling the government she doesn't want to be micromanaged when they inform her of continuing complaints against the centre's executive director. 
·        She's provided with written complaints in strictest confidence, only to have the names of the complainers leaked to the person in position to retaliate against them.
·        She gives short shrift to powerless native women seeking help but does nothing to inconvenience the personally- and politically-connected native woman that's creating havoc within the organization.

You might think this would raise questions about her qualifications for the job of "integrity commissioner". 

If members of the three-person committee charged with picking the "best" candidate for the job—councillors Mike Pagtakhan, Matt Allard and Devi Sharma---were aware of Walsh's performance with the Native Women's Transition Centre before recommending her to executive policy committee, it didn't bother them.

And Mayor Brian Bowman, who purports to be a "privacy lawyer", also knew about the allegations against Walsh involving breach of privacy and violation of confidentiality before bringing her name to city council to rubberstamp.  He heard all about it at the EPC meeting the week before.

Bowman, who never fails to raise his aboriginal heritage when it’s politically convenient, showed such contempt for one of the native women from the NWTC who appeared before Council to object to Walsh's appointment, that he walked out of the council chambers in front of her as she tried to speak. 

She was suddenly shut down by the council speaker, Sharma, on a procedural loophole.

Dysfunctional? Why would you say that?

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