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'Fired' chief medical officer says Nunavut's Health Department is a toxic workplace

Dr. Kim Barker, Nunavut's former chief medical officer of health, says the Department of Health is rife with dysfunction caused by deputy health minister Colleen Stockley.

Ousted minister Pat Angnakak also cites harassment as she resigns

Former chief medical officer of health for Nunavut, Dr. Kim Barker, called her working environment 'beyond toxic.' (Travis Burke/CBC)

Dr. Kim Barker says she was fired without cause.

Barker, Nunavut's former chief medical officer of health, says the Department of Health is rife with dysfunction caused by deputy health minister Colleen Stockley.

"I feel like every day for the last year has been nothing but bullying … it's toxic. Beyond toxic," Barker said.

Barker says she was called into Stockley's office on Oct. 17 and "fired" without notice or cause. She had been in the role since January 2016.

"Anyone who appears to threaten her authority very quickly becomes the enemy," she said.

This is part of a larger problem of internal politics that exists within the department, Barker said.

Anyone who appears to threaten [Stockley's] authority very quickly becomes the enemy.- Dr. Kim Barker

Health Minister George Hickes and Stockley have a friendship outside of work that impacts the department, she said.

Preferential treatment is given to those who have a social relationship with Stockley and those on the outs were bullied and harassed, Barker said.

Despite this, Barker says she wants her job back.

'Hostile environment'

Barker's claims related to the work environment in the Health Department are backed up by a resignation letter from its former assistant deputy minister of operations, Kathy Perrin.

In the letter addressed to Stockley in March 2018, and obtained by CBC, Perrin says senior management created a "hostile environment" that she feels prevented her from effectively doing her job.

"From my own recent experience in the department … leaders do not get the best out of people when they feel unsafe, misunderstood, disrespected and vulnerable," Perrin wrote.

Her letter asks for a department-wide review of the workplace environment.

Minister Hickes declined to be interviewed for this story. In an email, his executive assistant said  "he is unable to discuss individual employee relations matters."

Stockley did not respond to an interview request about Barker and Perrin's concerns.

Stockley is expected to retire in early 2019.

Pat Angnakak was Nunavut's health minister before she was shuffled to the Nunavut Housing Corporation and Qulliq Energy Corporation. The premier stripped her of all portfolios last week. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Ex-minister calls for accountability

Former health minister Pat Angnakak also mentioned harassment and fairness within the Government of Nunavut in the legislature last week.

She resigned from cabinet after the premier stripped her of her portfolios, which most recently were the Nunavut Housing Corporation and the Qulliq Energy Corporation.

In an interview with CBC, Angnakak said when she was health minister, a senior person in the department called her to inform her that senior health staff were planning to have her removed.

In her resignation speech in the Legislative Assembly, Angnakak said she wanted to see people in top government positions held to account in the same way as ministers.

"I believe that our deputy heads serve an important function in government and they, too, work hard. I now understand they exercise the majority of the power in this government," she said.

The Nunavut legislature. Health Minister George Hickes declined to be interviewed for this story. Colleen Stockley did not respond to an interview request. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

Allegations of toxic workplace

Dr. Barker isn't the first bureaucrat to claim toxicity within the Government of Nunavut.

Last November, CBC News obtained a summary of an internal government investigation that found Nunavut's court services unit was a "toxic workplace." It said "destructive" gossip, favouritism and a lack of leadership were prevalent in the court registries.

Management called the report biased and one-sided, though acknowledged that working conditions were "less than ideal."

Nunavut's former chief coroner, Padma Suramala, filed a $1-million wrongful dismissal suit against the government in June, alleging harassment, intimidation and interference in her job. 

Last week, the Nunavut government filed its statement of defence, arguing Suramala forged a document in order to seize health records and was involved in "fraudulent activity" at the local YWCA, a job it alleges she didn't properly disclose to the government.

With files from Kieran Oudshoorn and Nick Murray