Nova Scotia

Police investigating former Cape Breton employment agency

Island Employment shut down in November after the province cut ties with the organization 6 months before the end of its contract.

Ombudsman investigation found 'misuse or gross mismanagement of public funds or assets' at Island Employment

Island Employment in Sydney, N.S. The employment agency shut down last month. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

After first being the subject of a damning report by the Nova Scotia ombudsman's office, Island Employment is now the subject of a police investigation.

The Cape Breton-based employment services organization closed its doors on Nov. 21 after the Department of Labour ended its contract early.

Less than two weeks later, on Dec. 2, the department asked Cape Breton Regional Police to investigate the possible misuse of public funds, according to a spokesperson for the police service.

In his annual report, ombudsman William A. Smith said his office had found "a misuse or gross mismanagement of public funds or assets" after investigating four years' worth of records

The Department of Labour declined an interview, citing the ongoing investigation.

In a statement, a spokesperson told CBC News the government has a responsibility to hold taxpayer-funded service providers to certain standards and report information to the appropriate authorities.

The news of the police investigation came as a surprise to Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union. The union represents the former workers at Island Employment. 

NSGEU president Jason MacLean says he doesn't understand why the province hasn't conducted a forensic audit of the agency. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

MacLean has been asking for a forensic audit of what happened at the organization for the past few weeks, saying he believes the process would clear his members' names. 

"Why now is there a need for an investigation criminally when they don't have any new information? All they have is the ombudsman's information," he said.

Labour Minister Jill Balser has declined to order a forensic audit. She told CBC Radio's Mainstreet Cape Breton on Oct. 29 that her department had all the information needed to make a decision to end its contract with Island Employment.

"That's what we made our decision on was the mismanagement of funds.... So that and our own internal review, the investigation was complete," said Balser.

Nova Scotia Labour Minister Jill Balser has said a forensic audit of Island Employment is not necessary. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

MacLean said he isn't concerned about the impact of a police investigation on his members, noting it was unionized employees at Island Employment who blew the whistle on the agency and triggered the ombudsman's review. 

"As far as I know, our members reported what's been going on and haven't been privy to signing off for any money or anything like that, so I do not feel that our members are at risk," he said.


Brittany Wentzell

Current Affairs Reporter/Editor

Brittany Wentzell is based in Sydney, N.S., as a reporter for Information Morning Cape Breton. She has covered a wide range of issues including education, forestry and municipal government. Story ideas? Send them to


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