‘Is he going to hit me?’ Government executive abused staff, watchdog confirms

A high-ranking federal executive has been accused of frightening and abusive behaviour.
A high-ranking federal executive has been accused of frightening and abusive behaviour. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Sean Kilpatrick

A federal watchdog says a “high ranking” executive who worked at the Public Health Agency of Canada should face disciplinary action after screaming, swearing and reducing employees to tears.

In a report tabled in Parliament on Thursday, Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday said the unnamed former male employee displayed frequent tirades and outbursts of violent rage, verbally abusing staff and other government employees with alarming frequency.

“The executive engaged regularly in loud shouting directed at staff during meetings and in front of other personnel,” Friday notes.

“The executive was described as being volatile at meetings, with staff not knowing when the next ‘explosion’ would be … Many witnesses reported being reduced to tears or having witnessed others crying as a result of the executive’s actions.”

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Witnesses told the commissioner’s office that the man would call them “incompetent,” swear, advance on them with closed fists, throw files and papers, bang on his desk in anger, and say things like “is that the best you can think of?”

This behaviour was often followed by apologies, the report notes, resulting in a repeated cycle of abuse.

One witness quoted in the report described the executive as being red faced with “bulging” eyes when he pulled a chair up so close that his knees were nearly touching the witness’s knees.

“(He) was completely out of control. To the point where I thought ‘is (he) going to hit me?’… This went on for about 15 minutes … I took my things and went quietly out of (the executive’s) office but as soon as I was by (his) windows, I ran all the way back to my desk.”

The investigation, launched in May 2014, included a review of emails and employee records, and 42 separate witnesses were interviewed. They included current and former employees, and both senior and support staff.

The executive has “vigorously denied” doing anything wrong. He said he was just “passionate” about his work and sometimes raised his voice in frustration.

He is still working in the federal public service today, moving to another government department during the commissioner’s investigation.

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Friday informed the new department of the findings and recommended that disciplinary measures against the man be taken. He says the new employer, also unnamed in the report, has concluded that disciplinary action is warranted.

Friday’s report says that although agency managers initially acted on harassment complaints about the executive, they should have done more followup.

— With files from the Canadian Press.

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