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 Whistleblowers Need Protection



Whistle-blower faced 10,579 questions
$6M Lawsuit; Discovery 'taken beyond reasonable limits'

By Shannon Kari, National Post
March 8, 2008

Aaron Lynett/Canwest News Service
Joanna Gualtieri, lawyer and founder of the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform.

In their attempt to show that Joanna Gualtieri was not the victim of harassment and reprisals when she made claims of misspending and waste in the 1990s at the Department of Foreign Affairs, federal government lawyers have already required her to answer 10,579 questions in court.

The former realty portfolio manager at Foreign Affairs has been "examined for discovery" for 31 days over the past several years by Justice Department lawyers defending a $6-million lawsuit she filed against the federal government and eight employees in 1998.

Ms. Gualtieri, a 46-year-old lawyer and mother of two boys aged four and two, first came forward in the early 1990s to suggest that millions of dollars of public money were being wasted by Foreign Affairs at several Canadian embassies.

She alleged that she was ignored or thwarted by her superiors and then shunned, harassed and ultimately moved into a position with no assigned duties.

"I was not trying to blow the whistle," Ms. Gualtieri said. "I thought I was doing my job."

For the past several years, she has been on unpaid medical leave from the federal government as she seeks financial damages for the way she was allegedly treated by her superiors. It is only with the support of her husband, Serge Landry, as well as her family and friends that she has been able to continue her legal fight.

"It is like Foreign Affairs threw me off the bus," she explained.

"And now the Department of Justice has come along and is trying to run me over."

More than 10,000 questions into their questioning of Ms. Gualtieri, much of it in 2006 after the birth of her youngest son, the government indicated it was three-quarters of the way through the process.

But an Ontario Superior Court ruling released last month has put the brakes on the marathon questioning strategy.

Superior Court Master Robert Beaudoin ruled that the government lawyers can question Ms. Gualtieri for only eight more hours (case management masters perform similar tasks to judges in civil proceedings).

"In their zeal to defend their client from Gualtieri's claims, I conclude that they have taken their discovery beyond reasonable limits," Master Beaudoin observed.

"They have attached a disproportionate amount of time in conducting a project review of the foreign missions referred to in the claim. The discovery has taken on the dimensions of public inquiry," he said in the February 22 ruling.

Many of the government's questions were described as "repetitive, argumentative, picayune or irrelevant," by Ms. Gualtieri's lawyer.

"I am satisfied that most of the criticisms are well founded," Master Beaudoin concluded.

A spokeswoman at Foreign Affairs declined comment because the10-year-old lawsuit is before the courts.

Linda Wall, the lead Justice Department lawyer in the case, said "I'm too busy," when contacted by the National Post this week and asked to comment on the ruling.

Justice Department spokesman Christian Girouard said he could not comment about the specifics of the lawsuit.

He explained that it is important to note there are a number of allegations against several defendants.

"The defendants are entitled to ask her in detail what she relies on for those allegations," Mr. Girouard said.

He added that Mr. Beaudoin said he was "not satisfied" that the government lawyers were intentionally abusive.

Stephen Victor, the lawyer representing Ms. Gualtieri, said the lawsuit is not complex and should not be taking so long.

"This case is about harassment, about the government's conduct," he said. Instead of defending the claims against it, the government is using the lawsuit to revisit its spending practices at its foreign missions, Mr. Victor. said

Adding to the frustration of Ms. Gualtieri is that she was hailed by the present Conservative government as the type of public service employee who will be protected under its new Accountability Act.

"Ms. Gualtieri did expose millions of dollars worth of Liberal corruption," said Pierre Poilievre, parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board, in the House of Commons in June, 2006.

When asked at the time if the Conservatives would settle the lawsuit, Mr. Poilievre responded that it was under review. "The litigation in which she is now engaged is litigation of the previous government," said the Conservative MP, who states on his Web site that he was responsible for redrafting the country's whistle-blower protection laws.

A spokesman for the Ottawa-area MP did not return calls seeking comment. Nearly two years after Mr. Poilievre said the case was under review, the government has not changed its tactics toward Ms. Gualtieri.

"There have been no serious attempts to resolve the matter," Mr. Victor said.

The ruling last month is the latest in a series of legal obstacles Ms. Gualtieri has had to overcome since she filed the lawsuit.

More than seven years ago, a Superior Court judge ruled that public servants may not sue the federal government and dismissed her case.

That decision was overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeal in August, 2002, allowing the lawsuit to continue. A year later, the then-Liberal government passed legislation to prohibit federal civil servants from bringing future court actions involving employment-related disputes.

The stress of the prolonged examination by the government has had a damaging impact on her health and the court heard that she collapsed after one day of questioning.

During the summer of 2006, Ms. Gualtieri said she would often look out the window of her Ottawa home and see other mothers taking their children to a nearby park, which she could not do because of her health problems and the need to prepare to be questioned by the government lawyers. "You can never get those days back," she said.

Once the government concludes it final eight hours of questioning Ms. Gualtieri, a date will be set for the trial, which is unlikely to start until 2009.

"I know in my heart I am right. I will see this through," she promised.

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