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Anny Sauvageau makes more allegations of wrongdoing in medical examiner's office

The province’s former chief medical examiner has countered the government’s attempt to dismiss her multi-million-dollar lawsuit with more explosive allegations of political interference, wrongdoing and negligence.

Dr. Anny Sauvageau claims criminal investigations could be compromised

Dr. Anny Sauvageau claims she was told to "keep secret" problems that she said could compromise death investigations and subsequent criminal trials. (CBC)

The province’s former chief medical examiner has countered the government’s attempt to dismiss her multi-million-dollar lawsuit with more explosive allegations of political interference, wrongdoing and negligence.

In her reply, filed Monday, to the government’s statement of defence, Dr. Anny Sauvageau claims she identified problems with her office’s case-management system that could compromise death investigations and subsequent criminal trials. But Sauvageau alleges the problems were never addressed and she was told to “keep it secret.”

Sauvageau’s reply also contains allegations which directly tie Justice Minister Jonathan Denis to a costly new body transportation contract she claims was renegotiated after the department caved to political pressure from the Alberta Funeral Services Association.

Sauvageau also alleges serious negligence and mismanagement of the office of the chief medical examiner before she took over the top position. The allegations include:

  • the illegal distribution of reports and death certificates and the illegal release of specimens and evidence;
  • the discovery of three bank accounts which were not disclosed to the government;
  • the discovery of overtime fraud which had been previously overlooked;
  • unaddressed harassment and bullying complaints;
  • the lack of internal controls over evidence. Several firearms disappeared from the evidence room. In one case, an employee under the former chief medical examiner took a firearm for personal use.

In February, Sauvageau launched a $5.15-million wrongful dismissal lawsuit against Alberta Justice, Denis, and four senior bureaucrats. She claimed that despite excellent performance reviews and repeated assurances that her contract would be renewed, the government abruptly chose not to renew her contract late last year after she challenged political interference in her office and its work.

The government responded with a statement of defence in which it claimed Sauvageau was no longer fit for the job. It described her as frequently confrontational and disrespectful, with a habit of meddling in areas not under her authority.

None of the allegations from either side has been proven in court.

Chain of evidence problems

Most serious of her recent allegations is that the office of the chief medical examiner cannot properly track the chain of evidence for its death investigations.

Sauvageau claims when she became chief medical examiner in July 2011, she discovered the office’s case-management system, “presented significant risks to the ability to effectively manage cases and maintain a high level of accountability.”

Sauvageau's filing also alleges she was pressured by Justice Minister Jonathan Denis to reopen a contract for body transportation services. (CBC)
She claims an external audit confirmed the risks, which included that any employee with access to the system could change information about cause and manner of death “with no trail of evidence to indicate who changed the information and when the change was made.” The audit, by Deloitte, an outside firm, also concluded autopsy reports could be altered without the medical examiner being aware of the change.

Sauvageau alleges these problems, “had a potentially significant impact on the death investigation system and the administration of justice in Alberta.”

But she says despite her repeated warnings and requests for more money to fix the system, no changes were made. Sauvageau claims deputy minister Tim Grant was told about the problems but told Sauvageau, through an assistant deputy minister, to “keep it secret.”

Another potentially serious problem with the chain of evidence in criminal cases identified by Sauvageau was that, before March 19, 2014, there were no criminal-record checks for employees of body transportation providers.

“As a result, several homicide cases had been transported by persons who had criminal records, which created obvious concerns for the integrity of the death investigation system and the administration of justice,” Sauvageau states.

The new body transportation contract, which took effect March 19, 2014, required criminal record checks.

Sauvageau claims the Alberta Funeral Services Association (AFSA) objected and she was pressured by a senior manager, at the insistence of Denis and Grant, to later abandon this requirement.

Body transportation contract renegotiated

In her original statement of claim, Sauvageau alleges Alberta Justice officials renegotiated the body transportation contract despite financial analysis which showed it would cost Sauvageau’s office an additional $3M over three years. She claims the department did so to meet the demands of the AFSA and win political support in rural ridings.

Sauvageau expands on that allegation in her most recent court filing by quoting from a memo by Alberta Justice’s director of procurement services.

“I really don’t think we should terminate this contract and reissue the (pre-qualification request) to address concerns which have been raised by (body transport) vendors who could not meet our mandatory requirements,” the director says in a memo to an assistant deputy minister.

“If we allow vendors to dictate what should be in a contract, then we may not be protecting our assets/program.”

Sauvageau also alleges it was Justice Minister Jonathan Denis who personally directed her to reopen the contract.

She says she spoke with him at her office’s “Stampede Breakfast” in Calgary on July 9, 2014, a week after Denis’ meeting with the AFSA.

“He asked (Sauvageau) to renegotiate the body transportation services contract with the AFSA to appease them, and to make sure that the AFSA would not complain to the media,” Sauvageau’s reply states.

Sauvageau claims she was further pressured into reopening the contract, “‘to make the minister look good’ since he had made a personal commitment to AFSA, and to protect the rural vote.”

Denis, she claims, also told her a list of complaints about body transportation services “was not to reach the media.”

Those complaints are detailed in Sauvageau’s statement of claim. The allegations include that:

  • funeral services staff took pictures of crime scenes for personal collections;
  • funeral homes charged families for body transportation already paid for by the medical examiner’s office;
  • a body of a deceased had been placed for transportation in the open box of a pickup truck.

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