Monday, July 6, 2009

Harper Fires Whistle Blower in Fit of Rage

Before the Listeriosis outbreak became public, a biologist working for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, blew the whistle on the cutbacks that were removing food inspections from government responsibility, and turning them over to the industry itself.

Harper fired him immediately. So much for accountability.

This meant that corporations would no longer have to deal with pesky little things like a government agent telling them to clean their factories, causing delay and reducing profits.

I mean what was our safety worth? Not much apparently, although it gave Gerry Ritz a good laugh, so if 22 deaths can put a smile on someones face, maybe it's worth a little contamination.

Scientist fired after circulating confidential government documents
Kathryn May,
Canwest News Service
July 08, 2008

OTTAWA - Confidential documents insecurely posted on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's computer network laid out sensitive plans to turn over food inspections and labelling to industry and also led to the firing of the scientist who stumbled upon them.

Luc Pomerleau, a biologist with a 20-year "unblemished record" in government, said he was fired last week for "gross misconduct' and breaching security because he sent the documents to his union. Pomerleau, who is a union steward, also was deemed "unreliable," which means he no longer has the security clearance to do his job or to work again in the public service.

The documents appear to involve a re-organizing of food inspection that will shift more of the onus for food safety to the suppliers that manufacture and distribute food and other products. (The documents can be seen here)

The changes are part of the government's strategic review, which requires departments to find savings worth five per cent of their operating budgets to be reallocated to priorities of the Harper government. The document, marked confidential, is a letter from Treasury Board Secretary Wayne Wouters to CFIA President Carole Swan, explaining that the government approved the proposed cuts, but warned some have "communication risks," so will have to be deferred until a communication plan is ready.

CFIA spokesman J.P. St-Amand, citing privacy reasons, wouldn't comment on the firing except to say "due process was followed," including an investigation into how the documents landed in the hands of a "third-party." Public servants join the government, pledging to be loyal and sign security agreements, to safeguard classified information.

In an interview, Pomerleau said he stumbled on the document on the server in a directory that could be accessed by any of the agency's 6,500 employees. He said he assumed the document couldn't still be confidential or it wouldn't have been scanned and left there for anyone to find. He said the document was marked with a small "confidential" stamp in the right hand corner, but none of the pages was marked as is typically done for confidential material.

"It was accessible to anyone," he said. "If the document hadn't been there and the people in charge of the document had taken care of it properly, I wouldn't have seen it."

Michele Demers, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said Pomerleau is a "scapegoat" and firing was "way out of proportion" for a mistake that was made by a senior manager who authorized the document to be scanned.
The document records the results of a November 2007 Treasury Board meeting where ministers approved the proposed cuts for the upcoming February budget. The changes will affect the inspection of animal feed mills, the certification of commercial seed, and eliminate mandatory label registration of meat and processed products. It also calls for consolidating three import service centres into one central facility and proposed spending cuts on equipment for the Avian Influenza Preparedness Program.

In this case, the document was still confidential because the agency hasn't completed its consultations with the industry and other stakeholders on the changes, said St. Amand.

Demers said Pomerleau happened on the documents in May and sent them to the union, which in turn circulated them among a handful of union officials. The agency found out about the document being circulated when union officials produced it at a union-management meeting and asked what the changes were all about. Pomerleau was suspended during the probe.

Demers said that when she realized the documents were considered confidential she ordered a recall of any copies the union distributed and returned them to the agency as a "show of goodwill." She said Pomerleau only sought the union's advice on the changes "which is a normal reflex of any union steward."

She said the incident exposed another embarrassing security breach for the government, but the mistake rested with whomever authorized the documents be put on the server.

Coincidentally, the circulation of the document came to light the same the week Maxime Bernier resigned from his position as federal affairs minister, after leaving classified documents in the apartment of former girlfriend Julie Couillard.

Treasury Board is reviewing the government security policy as part of its massive policy review. The new policy, which is being updated to reflect concerns about national security, will tighten rules for sharing classified information, as well how to handle it and destroy

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