A superintendent with Winnipeg's paramedic service is facing allegations of conflict of interest over his involvement in a private company that trains paramedics.
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Paul Roberts is a longtime employee of the City of Winnipeg's paramedic service, but he also works for a company called Criti Care, which offers paramedic training.
As recently as 2010, Roberts has been referred to as a vice-president of the company.
Roberts acknowledges that he has played a role in hiring paramedics for the city, including those he had a role in training at Criti Care.
“Is that a problem? Yeah, it's a problem,” Coun. Ross Eadie told CBC News.
“He's in a conflict,” added Eadie, who has been pushing for tighter conflict-of-interest rules for civic employees.
Roberts says he declared involvement
Reached by telephone, Roberts told the CBC News I-Team that he has made declarations to City of Winnipeg management regarding his involvement with Criti Care and he believes he is not in a conflict of interest.
Roberts said when new allegations surfaced, he again raised the issue with human resources officials at the city.
“I have made declarations in the past because I always wanted to ensure that I was not in an actual or potentially perceived conflict of interest with the city because I had their best interests at heart,” Roberts said.
“I've had a meeting today [Sept. 20] with the department. We looked again [at] what had been declared in the past, we looked at what my current activity is with Criti Care and what my current activity is with the City of Winnipeg, and we're in the process of being re-evaluated."
Asked to describe what he had declared to the city about his role in Criti Care, Roberts said he couldn't answer that because he didn't have the documents in front of him.
“At that time the declarations were made, and there's letters from the city acknowledging the declarations, also acknowledging that there was no actual or perceived conflict of interest,” he said.
Played role in hiring city paramedics
Roberts explained that while he was a paramedic for the city, he and a partner operated Criti Care as a partnership, incorporating it in 1993.
Roberts said he sold his ownership in the company soon after that.
About five years ago — Roberts could not recall the exact year — he was promoted to superintendent with the paramedic service and began playing a role in hiring new paramedics for the city.
That involved sitting on job interview panels with potential recruits, including those who took their paramedic training with Criti Care.
“I would tell the panel leader I may have taught that particular person in the training program," Roberts said.
"Their response was, ‘That's fine; it's a three-person panel. You're only one opinion — the city's hiring process is a very complex process, this is only one small component of it.'”
He added that the recommendation of a hiring panel would then be sent to another committee that would decide who would be offered a job.
Other Manitoba schools offering paramedic training include Red River College in Winnipeg and the Manitoba Emergency Services College in Brandon.
Coun. Harvey Smith said even a perception of conflict of interest poses a problem.
“When they apply for something with the city, they want fair treatment. If there is any suspicion, it is not good for the city," he said.
Downplays current involvement
While Roberts said he no longer has an ownership interest in Criti Care, he downplayed his current involvement with the company.
In a Sept. 9 phone call with the I-Team, Roberts said of his role with Criti Care, “I've done a little bit of training for them when I'm not working at city. But that's really about it.”
“Paul's only role, to be perfectly frank, is that of a bookkeeper for us,” said Criti Care president William Sommers.
“He does our accounting for us,” he said, adding that Roberts currently has no "operational" role at Criti Care.
In a subsequent phone call, Roberts identified his title at Criti Care as "bookkeeper" and said he has not done any instructing at Criti Care for at least a year and a half.
Roberts acknowledged that he has signed cheques on behalf of the company.
In 2010, Roberts travelled to India with other Criti Care officials when the company developed a plan to do paramedic training with the Gian Sagar College of Paramedical Sciences. At the time, media reports in India identified Roberts as corporate vice-president.
“We didn't meet with the press. This was a release that was given, and I'm not sure where it came from,” said Roberts.
The I-Team has also obtained a copy of a 2010 internal memo to Criti Care staff identifying Roberts as a “vice-president — finance."
Roberts said he's unaware of how the "vice-president" title came to appear on the memo.
“I think I've tried to be diligent throughout everything I've done, including when you first raised the question, going to the employer immediately. I want to make sure this is clean,” Roberts said.
He said that following his meeting with his employers at the city last Friday, “I'm awaiting their determination as to where we go from here. I will respect that and you know, move forward."
But the president of Criti Care says there's no conflict of interest.
"To be really frank, I don't think even a perceived conflict or bias,” said Sommers.
“We've always been sensitive to those kinds of issues…. We wouldn't ever put any of our people in any kind of conflict of interest position," he added.
Coun. Ross Eadie has introduced a motion calling for stricter rules for civic employees on conflict of interest. It's due to be debated in about a month at Winnipeg's city hall.
The item was on the agenda of council's executive policy committee meeting on Sept. 18 and was laid over for 30 days while the civic administration prepares a report on the subject.
Eadie made the proposal last March, following the case of a City of Winnipeg building inspector who was under investigation for conflict of interest due to his involvement in a construction company.