June 26, 2017 2:41 pm

$1.6M for private eyes to probe government harassment complaints

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Since late 2015, the government of Canada has spent at least $1.6 million on outside private investigators to look into allegations of workplace harassment across various departments, Crown corporations and agencies.

Documents tabled last week in the House of Commons reveal that workplace harassment complaints are the most common reason the federal government seeks outside help from private eyes. And there is at least some indication that these contracts are being awarded because departments don’t have the internal resources to handle every complaint.

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Of the nine bodies that issued contracts for this purpose, the Department of National Defence has easily spent the most money.

Since November 2015, DND’s bills for private investigations into harassment came to $526,340, with the largest contract costing $69,722 and the smallest $5,214. At least one contract, awarded this past winter and costing about $6,500, involved sexual harassment allegations that were discovered to be founded.

The department has been making a concerted effort over the last two years to crack down on what has been described as an entrenched culture of harassment, inappropriate workplace behaviour and misogyny.

WATCH: Canadian Forces introduces six sexual assault response teams

According to DND spokesperson Daniel Le Bouthillier, Canada’s military police still investigate any criminal or service offences involving alleged harassment. But “harassment that does not meet the criminal or service offence threshold is investigated through other means.”

In order to ensure a certain standard of service, he explained, “we sometimes contract out such investigative services to third-party organizations.”

Asked if this meant that DND’s internal resources aren’t adequate to handle the volume of complaints, Le Bouthillier said he wouldn’t call the resources “inadequate.”

“We have a mix of tools and processes at our disposal to ensure complaints are handled appropriately,” he said.

“There are several contractors in that list (of private investigator contracts) that are from areas such as Nova Scotia, Edmonton and Toronto. We wouldn’t have internal resources in those places to address these types of issues, so it makes more sense to contract out. It’s a bit of a niche area of work so we do it in a way that delivers results while being cost-effective.”

Last fall, DND opened the four local Complaint Management Services centres on a trial basis to help handle more complaints internally. Le Bouthillier said they are “yielding positive results.” Over the next few years, similar centres are expected to open their doors at military bases across Canada.

After DND, the second biggest spender on private workplace harassment investigations appears to be Health Canada, where the value of contracts totalled $279,874. (The department did not confirm if that amount has actually been spent yet, and some investigations may still be ongoing.)

The third biggest total was at Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), where actual spending as of last month sat at $256,911.

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Health Canada spokesperson Sindy Souffront said that in accordance with government policy, her department’s harassment complaint process is usually managed internally. But, she added, “an external investigator may be engaged to ensure additional perceived impartiality, supplement internal capacity, or both.”

“It has been a longstanding practice to use investigators through the Standing Offers managed by Public Services and Procurement Canada,” Souffront said.

Over at ESDC, it was a similar story. A spokesperson confirmed that the majority of the department’s private investigations are linked to allegations of harassment, and three were actually related to allegations of workplace violence.

“Where appropriate, ESDC leverages Public Services and Procurement Canada’s ‘Standing Offer Index’ to engage neutral, impartial third-party investigators who are free from any actual or perceived conflicts of interest or the perception of bias,” the spokesperson said.

Additional spending?

The documents were tabled last week in response to a written question submitted by Conservative MP John Nater.

They also list a dozen more contracts, across a handful of departments like Justice Canada and the Public Prosecution Service, that don’t specifically cite “harassment” as the reason behind the probe. Instead, they describe the work as a “human resources investigation,” “administrative investigation” or a “workplace investigation.”

Global News did not include any of these contracts in the $1.6 million total. They represent around $187,000 in additional spending.

Still other departments said they weren’t able to gather the requested information quickly enough to reply to Nater’s question within six weeks.

The RCMP, for example, said its financial filing system “does not capture the requested information at the level of detail requested. As a result, the information requested cannot be obtained without an extensive manual review of financial files. This manual review could not be completed within the established timeline.”

READ MORE: Harassment, bullying in RCMP a ‘serious and persistent problem’

Canada Post was by far the least transparent government entity. It acknowledged awarding 18 separate contracts to private investigators, but would not reveal how much was spent, the reason for each contract, or the results of the investigations.

The other departments, corporations and agencies that hired private investigators between November 2015 and June of this year provided at least some of that information in response to Nater’s question.

Cost of private investigations into harassment

Department of National Defence (spent as of June 2017): $526,340

Health Canada (contracted as of June 2017): $279,874

Employment/Social Development Canada (spent): $256,911

Global Affairs Canada (spent): $159,493

Canada Revenue Agency (spent): $152,557

Privy Council Office (contracted): $138,953

Canadian Food Inspection Agency (contracted): $46,578

Parole Board of Canada (spent): $35,546

Public Safety Canada (spent): $17,625

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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