Nova Scotia

Kitch said expense information might need to be 'stripped out,' hospital official testifies

Gina Connell, a public relations official for the Halifax children's hospital, testified Wednesday at Tracy Kitch's trial.

Gina Connell testifies former IWK CEO expressed concerns about CBC info requests

Tracy Kitch looks out from behind the door of a courtroom on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. (Robert Short/CBC)

Former IWK CEO Tracy Kitch said information about her expenses might need to be altered or made up following questions from a reporter, a Halifax courtroom has heard.

Gina Connell, a public relations official for the Halifax children's hospital, testified Wednesday for the Crown at Kitch's trial. Kitch is charged with fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust.

Connell testified that Kitch expressed concern to her following a story CBC News published in January 2017 about the travel and hospitality expenses of CEOs at government agencies. Although all but three paragraphs of the story focused on government officials travelling to Asia on trade-related business, Connell told the court that Kitch believed the real story was something else.

"She spoke to me about the article and felt that the real story was [then Nova Scotia Health Authority CEO] Janet Knox's expenses," Connell testified.

Information might need to be 'stripped out'

According to Connell, Kitch said Knox's expenses "were obviously too low … and that she must have been hiding something, and that's what the real story should be."

Kitch's expenses were listed in the story as being eight times higher than Knox's.

Soon after the publication of that story, CBC News filed freedom of information requests to the IWK related to Kitch's expenses during her time as CEO. Connell testified that Kitch told her that because the information requested went as far back as 2014, "if we had to, we have to make it up."

Connell also told the court that following an interview Kitch did with CBC News in June 2017 about her expenses, the former executive told her "there might need to be information stripped out."

She did not get to elaborate because time for the day ran out as defence lawyer Jacqueline King objected to Connell's need to refer to notes to provide further context.

"This is improper in my opinion," King told Judge Paul Scovil.

"I just received a copy of those notes this morning as we walked in, when the Crown came in to examine another witness."

Former assistants testify about working conditions

The court heard earlier in the day from people who worked in the hospital's finance department.

Although Angela MacDonald-Burke and Carrie Barnhill both testified about issues with getting Kitch's expense reports in a timely fashion, each also agreed under cross-examination by King that no one flagged fraud-related concerns to them.

Wednesday's testimony followed a day of conflicting descriptions of the work environment under Kitch by two of her former executive assistants.

Patricia Green testified Tuesday that initially her working relationship with Kitch was "positive, to some degree," but eventually deteriorated. She was sometimes tasked with doing things for Kitch that fell outside of her job description, including getting Kitch pantyhose, waiting at her residence for a barbecue to be delivered and untangling a knotted necklace.

Green eventually left the post on account of health reasons, which she testified she felt were related to her work as Kitch's executive assistant.

Jeana Daye, who served as Kitch's assistant after Green, testified that she had no issues with the former CEO and that she was never asked to do personal tasks for her.

Daye, who struggled to remember much about her day-to-day duties working for Kitch, said she had no problems filing expense reports on time or getting necessary receipts from her then boss.