Politics

Ouimet fails to appear at committee

Former integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet has violated an order to appear before the public accounts committee.

Former integrity commissioner could be found in contempt of Parliament

The seat reserved for former integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet remained empty as she failed to appear. ((Kady O'Malley/CBC))

Former integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet has violated an order to appear before the public accounts committee.

Ouimet was summoned last week to appear before the committee Tuesday. Her failure to appear is likely to spark a debate about whether she was properly summoned, the CBC's Kady O'Malley reported.

If it is determined that Ouimet failed to appear despite being summoned properly, she could be found to be in contempt of Parliament.

The committee is looking into why Ouimet, the former watchdog for public sector whistleblowers, never found a single case of wrongdoing during her time in charge of the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada.

In December, Auditor General Sheila Fraser concluded that Ouimet's "behaviour and actions do not pass the test of public scrutiny and are inappropriate and unacceptable for a public servant — most notably for the agent of Parliament specifically charged with the responsibility of upholding integrity in the public sector and of protecting public servants from reprisal."

In brief, Fraser's report concluded that Ouimet:

  • Had inappropriate conduct and interactions with staff at the Public Service Integrity Commission, or PSIC.
  • Took retaliatory actions against those she believed had filed complaints about her.
  • Failed to perform her mandated functions.
Christiane Ouimet, the former integrity commissioner, acted inappropriately and unacceptably as a public servant, according to an audit released in December by Auditor General Sheila Fraser. ((Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press))

A parliamentary bailiff attempted to serve Ouimet with the summons on Feb. 2, commitee chair Joe Volpe said. The bailiff was told that Ouimet was out of the country.

The bailiff returned on Feb. 4 and Feb. 7 intending to serve the summons but was unable to personally see Ouimet. Volpe said attempts were made to contact Ouimet by phone and registered mail in December and January as well.

On Tuesday, a CBC News journalist knocked on the door of Ouimet's Ottawa home, but there was no answer. No one appeared to be home.

Ouimet worked in the federal bureaucracy for 25 years, including in senior positions. She is now retired with a pension.

On the day she left her job last fall, the federal cabinet passed an order-in-council dealing with the terms of her departure. Those terms were not made public.

She had been hired as commissioner on a seven-year contract, with a salary range of $182,750 to $215,000. She served three of those seven years.

Matter referred to law clerk of the House

Before going in camera, the committee agreed to refer the matter to Rob Walsh, law clerk of the House of Commons.

Prior to that, debate about how to proceed ensued.

Volpe said the committee's options were to give up, seek authority from the House to proceed further, or wait until Ouimet comes back.

"But we don't know where she is and we don't know for how long she will be where she is, if indeed she is away," he said.

Volpe also reminded the MPs the committee's summons only has power in Canada.

Conservative MPs Bev Shipley and Darryl Kramp suggested checking to see whether the government operations committee also intended to summon Ouimet.

But opposition MPs expressed an interest in "sending the appropriate message," the CBC's O'Malley reported.

As the committee meeting continued, Liberal MP Paul Szabo, who is not on the committee, tweeted: "Christiane Ouimet, former Integrity Commissioner, has ignored a summons again. Time to report to the House and request a Speaker's warrant."

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