‘We aren’t allowed to laugh around here’: Is this civil servant the worst boss ever?

A federal public servant is accused of creating an environment of fear in her office at Corrections Canada. Getty Images

A senior director at the Correctional Service of Canada repeatedly screamed at and belittled the employees under her watch, a new report tabled in Parliament has found, creating an “environment of fear” that eventually led a whistleblower to report her behaviour to an independent watchdog.

After a detailed investigation launched nearly two years ago, Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday has found that Brigitte de Blois, who served as director of CSC’s Offenders Redress Division for five years between 2010 and 2015, committed gross mismanagement and serious breaches of both the department’s internal Code of Discipline and the broader Values and Ethics Code for the federal public sector.

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De Blois’ subordinates accused her of a litany of outrageous office behaviour, including regular screaming and bullying that left employees afraid to approach her or even be seated near her office. Witnesses said she referred to someone’s work as a “piece of (expletive),” and called employees “pathetic losers,” “morons,” “idiots,” or “disturbed.”

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The director also pushed chairs around, slammed doors and slammed her hands on tables, Friday found, and once told an employee that “now you will shut your mouth, we aren’t allowed to laugh around here.”

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Daily staff meetings attended by de Blois were referred to by one employee as a “punishment ritual.”

The abuse allegedly continued at de Blois’ current post, as head of the CSC’s Evaluation Division, after 2015. There, Friday writes, she told employees she had “all the power,” and appeared to have little or no empathy for people dealing with personal issues. The director allegedly said that she would “break” an employee once he returned from leave, for instance.

De Blois was also accused in 2016 of saying she wanted “nothing to do” with another employee who was sexually assaulted by someone outside of the workplace.

“I want to see someone in that seat who works,” she is alleged to have declared.

Assistant Commissioner did nothing

In 2016, an employee tried to report this behaviour directly to CSC Assistant Commissioner Larry Motiuk, Tuesday’s report noted. Motiuk appeared “annoyed” by the complaint, and Friday says that witnesses were convinced that he had known about de Blois’ pattern of behaviour for months, if not longer.

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“The Assistant Commissioner was made aware of incidents involving (de Blois) that were neither
minor nor isolated,” Friday wrote.

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“I find that the Assistant Commissioner had specific knowledge of the Director’s abusive behaviour since at least the summer of 2015, and that he had personally witnessed her scream at an employee. When he was made aware of re-occurrences of abusive behaviour in September 2016, he failed to take appropriate and required measures to address the situation.”

As a result of his inaction, Motiuk has also been found to have committed gross mismanagement and breached the established codes of conduct.

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Friday’s office heard from 29 witnesses in connection with the case, including Motiuk and de Blois themselves, and reviewed “extensive documentary evidence.”

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De Blois did express regret, the report states, but disputed that her behaviour amounted to wrongdoing, and “explained that she expected a lot from her employees in the context of a very busy work environment.”

Motiuk denied doing anything wrong.

Friday is recommending that CSC consider disciplinary action against the two, which could include termination of their employment, and said he would be following up in six months to find out what has been done. He’s also suggesting a “workplace wellness initiative” be considered for the divisions affected by their behaviour.

The case is the latest in a string of similar investigations involving abusive managers in the federal public sector over the last two years.

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