Alberta’s chief medical examiner will not have her contract renewed when it expires at year’s end, CBC News has learned.
Dr. Anny Sauvageau has been engaged in an ongoing dispute with senior Alberta Justice officials over the independence of her office, as revealed by documents obtained by CBC in September.
The internal documents revealed Sauvageau has expressed concerns over political and bureaucratic interference by provincial government representatives into the operation of the chief medical examiner’s office.
Wildrose critic Kerry Towle said the non-renewal of Sauvageau’s contract needs to be reviewed.
“It is a little bit concerning that the Justice minister is not renewing Ms.Sauvageau's contract in light of the allegations that the chief medical examiner made way back in July, made them in writing, asked for an investigation, and feared retribution,” Towle said.
“One has to be concerned: Is this because she complained against the government and brought some serious issues to light or is this with cause?” she added.
On Thursday, Dr. Graeme Dowling confirmed he will replace Sauvageau by serving as acting chief medical examiner beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
When CBC in September first revealed Sauvageau’s dispute with Justice officials over alleged political and bureaucratic interference, Alberta Justice communications did not respond to interview requests from CBC.
Dowling, however, gave interviews to other media outlets. In those interviews, he said he had never experienced any pressure or interference from the government during his 28 years in the office.
In a brief interview with CBC on Thursday, Dowling declined to say when it was decided he would replace Sauvageau as acting chief medical examiner.
Sauvageau alleged the interference in her office may affect the public’s trust in the integrity of the death-investigation system, specifically in relation to deaths of children in provincial care, prison inmates and those killed by police officers.
“Currently, there is regular political and bureaucratic interference in all aspects of the death investigation system, from the determination of cause and manner of death, to the development and implementation of policy related to death investigation,” Sauvageau states in a July 31, 2014, internal letter to Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis.
“In the current conditions, I cannot protect the integrity of the death investigation system,” Sauvageau adds.
Special treatment requested, documents show
Alberta Justice deputy minister Tim Grant responded to Sauvageau on behalf of Denis and denied any interference.
CBC News, however, also obtained documents which showed deputy ministers Peter Watson and Steve MacDonald asked for special treatment by the chief medical examiner’s office in relation to specific death-investigation cases.
As reported by CBC in September, the internal correspondence between Sauvageau and Grant revealed the dispute had escalated to the point where Sauvageau believed she was at risk of being fired for refusing to back down on the issue of her office’s independence.
Towle renewed the Wildrose call for an independent third-party investigation of Sauvageau’s allegations. She also called on Premier Jim Prentice to immediately review the circumstances surrounding “what appears to be the non-renewal of her contract in light of those allegations.”