Screaming, insults, pushed chairs: Integrity watchdog slams prisons official for abusive behaviour

A director with Canada's prison system screamed, hurled insults and behaved aggressively at employees on a near-daily basis, the federal integrity commissioner concludes in a report tabled in Parliament today.

One witness described daily meeting with Correctional Service Canada director as a 'punishment ritual'

Correctional Service Canada has launched an employee wellness campaign after a director was accused of abusing staff members. Brigitte de Blois worked at CSC's headquarters in downtown Ottawa. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

A director with Canada's prison system screamed, hurled insults and behaved aggressively at employees on a near-daily basis, the federal integrity commissioner concludes in a report tabled in Parliament today.

Public sector integrity commissioner Joe Friday said Brigitte de Blois, based in the Correctional Service of Canada's downtown Ottawa headquarters, committed a serious breach of the code of discipline and values and ethics code by engaging in "repetitive abusive behaviour" and berating employees with names like "pathetic loser," "disturbed" and "the other moron."

"Many witnesses reported that regular incidents of screaming at employees occurred in the context of daily staff meetings where employees felt particularly belittled and humiliated," Friday's report reads. 

"These meetings were the focal point of interaction between her and her employees. Witnesses related that these were difficult meetings, with one witness describing them as a 'punishment ritual.'"

Friday also concluded that de Blois' superior, assistant commissioner Larry Motiuk, committed gross mismanagement by failing to take appropriate measures to address the internal allegations of abusive behaviour levelled at de Blois.

"While I have fully considered the assistant commissioner's position that he was not aware of the serious problems associated with the director's behaviour, the evidence in its totality supports otherwise," Friday said.

The report states that while de Blois disputed the finding that her behaviour amounted to wrongdoing, she said that she expected a lot from her employees in the context of a very busy work environment and "expressed regret for any actions that offended or hurt her staff."

Motiuk denied having committed any form of wrongdoing, stating he was not aware of any significant problems with de Blois' behaviour. He denied the report's findings.

Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday describes repetitive abusive behaviour by a director at Correctional Service Canada. 0:18

A spokeswoman for CSC said disciplinary hearings for both executives have taken place and "appropriate steps are being implemented." Both are still employed by CSC but, citing privacy reasons, the spokeswoman would not disclose further details.

Witnesses said de Blois' abusive behaviour was not restricted to daily meetings. They reported that, many times per week, her screams could be heard all the way down the hall.

"One witness stated not wanting to be assigned a workspace in proximity to her office as he could not concentrate due to her yelling," the report reads.

Aggressive behaviour

Witnesses also offered accounts of her aggressively pushing a file across a desk, pushing chairs around, slamming doors and slamming her hands on a table.

On more than one occasion, de Blois is alleged to have returned reviewed written work to employees with annotations and marks so pronounced that there were tears through the paper. Witnesses said she did not tolerate disagreement and viewed it as insubordination.

The investigation involved events that occurred at CSC between 2010, when de Blois became director of the Offenders Redress Division (ORD), and December, 2015, when she was transferred to the Evaluation Division.

The initial investigation was expanded in February, 2017 to examine the conduct of CSC senior officials, including Motiuk.

The investigation was led by Patrick Martel, an investigator in Friday's office, who heard from 29 witnesses, including the director and assistant commissioner. He also reviewed extensive documentary evidence. 

At the time of the investigation, CSC commissioner Don Head, who retired in February, 2018, offered no comments on allegations against de Blois. On behalf of CSC, he denied that Motiuk committed any wrongdoing in how he handled internal complaints.

Head said no formal complaints had been made to the CSC or to the assistant commissioner about de Blois' behaviour, and denied any wrongdoing on the part of the CSC itself.

'Workplace wellness initiative'

Friday makes several recommendations in his report, including disciplinary action against both de Blois and Motiuk — with possible termination of employment as an option. He also recommends a "workplace wellness initiative" to address the needs of those affected by the actions of the director, and further training for senior managers about code of conduct in the workplace.

In response, CSC said it is taking several steps to improve the "organization's climate," including clear language around obligations for employees and the launch of a respectful workplace campaign that includes awareness about avenues to disclose inappropriate behaviour.

"The Correctional Service of Canada endeavours to maintain a workplace that is free from harassment, intimidation and bullying and welcomes the opportunity to use the report's recommendations to improve workplace wellness throughout the department," it reads.

A call to de Blois' office reached voice mail but was not immediately returned. Motiuk could not immediately be reached for comment.

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