Title: Foreign Affairs workers sue department for alleged harassment: Employees say trouble began when they questioned overspending
Source: Ottawa Citizen, July 8, 1998, Final Edition, p.A4
Two Foreign Affairs employees say they have been
systematically harassed for trying to halt lavish abuses that cost
taxpayers billions of dollars.
John Guenette and Joanna Gualtieri have filed a lawsuit against the
government alleging they were emotionally abused and ostracized for
questioning spending on the overseas accommodations enjoyed by
foreign service officers.
The statement of claim, filed recently in Ontario Court, says the
``culture and environment'' of Foreign Affairs does not allow them
to do their jobs with integrity.
``In fact, it promotes loyalty to the department over and above all
Both Mr. Guenette and Ms. Gualtieri work for the department's
bureau of physical resources, which manages a $3 billion portfolio
of real estate and other assets abroad.
The lawsuit names eight members of Foreign Affairs, including
Minister Lloyd Axworthy, as well as the federal attorney general.
The department, which is defending the action, has not yet filed a
statement with the court.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Dexter Bishop said it was too soon to
discuss the allegations.
``They'll be addressed in our statement of defence, and in the
meantime it's very difficult for me to be able to comment on the
specifics,'' he said.
The employees' claim says before July 1993, when the bureau was
turned into a special agency, it was largely directed by a cadre of
senior foreign service officers ``with a fixation on securing for
themselves, while posted abroad, grandiose and luxurious
accommodations and lifestyles at the expense of the Canadian
taxpayer. The abuses of governing policies were rampant.''
It alleges the ``careerism and opportunism'' have worsened in
recent years, costing taxpayers at least $2 billion during the past
Mr. Guenette joined the bureau in 1982 with an extensive background
in real estate. Ms. Gualtieri, a lawyer and former property
developer, has worked there since 1992.
The two employees claim their efforts to work ``in an efficient,
ethical and accountable fashion'' have prompted harassment from
supervisors over the past six years that has made them clinically
depressed, requiring ongoing care.
Both have been on leave since late April. The statement says they
were continually met with ``hostility, resistance and ridicule''
from department members in various capitals abroad. It adds that
they took their concerns to senior department members, their union,
the Public Service Commission and other parties.
``All proved ineffective and/or unable to properly redress the
issues and damages at hand,'' the statement said.
The employees seek a minimum $36 million in damages, the bulk of
which would be used to establish a non-profit advocacy organization
with a mandate to represent and protect the rights of government
The organization's role would include lobbying for changes to
federal employment practices, particularly those relating to matters
of integrity, abuse of power and harassment.
The federal government says there are already appropriate avenues
for employees to raise concerns of mismanagement, as well as
adequate protection for those who speak up about waste or fraud.
Copyright Ottawa Citizen 1998 All Rights Reserved.
Title: Duo denounces lavish lifestyles Employees claim harassment over attempts to halt diplomatic spending
Byline: Allan Thompson TORONTO STAR
Source: The Toronto Star, July 9, 1998, Final Edition, p.A25
OTTAWA - Public spending on housing for Canadian diplomats is
under attack in a lawsuit by two foreign affairs department
employees, who say they were harassed for trying to halt lavish
spending on residences abroad.
John Guenette and Joanna Gualtieri, who work for the operating
agency that manages the $3 billion portfolio of residences abroad,
have filed a suit against the government alleging they were
emotionally abused by their superiors at the department after
complaining about lavish spending by diplomats.
The statement of claim filed by the pair contends that before
management of the housing portfolio was turned over to a specialized
agency in 1993, it was directed by senior foreign service officers
and bureaucrats ``with a fixation on securing for themselves, while
posted abroad, grandiose and luxurious accommodations and lifestyles
at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer.''
``The abuses of governing policies were rampant,'' they claim.
The pair contend that such abuse has cost the Canadian taxpayer
``at least $2 billion'' in the last 10 years. But the statement of
claim doesn't provide any details.
(According to the auditor- general, the foreign affairs department
spends about $200 million a year maintaining overseas housing for
Canadian representatives abroad, so the entire budget for spending
in the past decade would barely exceed $2 billion.)
In their lawsuit, the pair are seeking a total of $6 million in
damages for themselves and punitive damages of $30 million to be
used to establish an advocacy organization to represent and protect
the rights of government employees.
Dexter Bishop, a spokesperson for the foreign affairs department,
said yesterday that there is a limit on what he can say about the
law suit because the foreign affairs department hasn't yet filed its
``We're not making any comment on the case itself,'' Bishop said.
``With regard to the allegations that the department squanders
money, the truth is that the department follows governmental
regulations and directives on spending of money for property
management and its acquisition,'' Bishop said.
Bishop said the department is obliged to follow very strict
guidelines, and that all major spending must be approved by Treasury
``The contention, frankly, that public servants manipulate the
process so as to secure for themselves lavish accommodation abroad
is really quite preposterous in general terms,'' Bishop said. ``But
I'm not commenting on the case.''
Coincidentally, the auditor- general published a detailed report
last fall on the way the foreign affairs department handles its
John Hitchinson, the person in the auditor-general's office
responsible for reviewing the foreign affairs department, said that
the study did make some criticism of the way money is spent on
Hitchinson stressed that he is in no way commenting on the current
lawsuit, but he said the most recent auditor-general's report, and a
previous study done in 1987, didn't turn up anything that he would
characterize as a boondoggle worth hundreds of millions.
``I didn't see anything here that would qualify as a boondoggle,''
In fact, the auditor-general noted that the operating agency had
made ``significant progress'' in some areas of its property
One of the auditor-general's criticisms was that the foreign
affairs department doesn't have an over-all maintenance plan for its
official residences abroad.
Instead, renovations and repairs are done on a case- by-case basis,
after an inspection report. And in nearly half the cases reviewed by
the auditor-general, repairs or renovations exceeded what was
outlined in the inspection reports.
``The department has spent large amounts on renovating and
repairing official residences when heads of mission changed, without
clearly establishing the requirements,'' the auditor-general
The report also criticized spending on larger residences for the
purpose of official entertaining. It found the more expensive
accommodation was often not used much for that.
Copyright The Toronto Star 1998 All Rights Reserved.
Title: WHISTLE-BLOWERS CLAIM HARASSMENT
Byline: Megan Gillis; Ottawa Sun
Two civil servants who blew the whistle on $2 billion in
alleged diplomatic perqs told a tribunal yesterday that they were
harassed in retribution.
The public service staff relations board must decide whether the
alleged harassment and resulting depression are a workplace danger
and injury under the Canadian Labor Code. The case was adjourned
John Guenette and Joanna Gualtieri claim they were abused for
questioning "grandiose ... accommodations and lifestyles" for
diplomats to the tune of $2 billion over a 10-year period at
Safety officer Daniel Strickland testified he found no evidence of
danger as defined by the Canadian Labor Code.
But lawyer Charles Gibson, representing Guenette and Gualtieri,
said: "We're trying to break new ground. The legal question is
whether the danger defined by the labor code applies to something
other than a physical one."
Copyright Toronto Sun 1998 All Rights Reserved.
Title: Medal deserved for suing federal department
Byline: Denis E. Murphy
Source: Ottawa Citizen, July 27, 1998, Final Edition, p.A8
A medal of appreciation should be struck by the Canadian
taxpayer for this man. John Guenette following his $36-million suit
against the Department of Foreign Affairs (``Foreign affairs workers
sue department for alleged harassment,'' July 8.)
Unfortunately what will undoubtedly happen is that he will be
vilified, lied about and driven from his profession -- and I doubt
if anything will change!
This harassment technique drove me from my 36-year career with the
department in 1991. Foolishly, I believed in the internal grievance
system which, as I ruefully learned, is not in place to protect the
individual, but rather to protect the department.
As I pointed out to the then Director-General of Personnel Michael
Conway, it's not the fact that middle management can do what they do
and get away with it; the bitter part is that they know they can! He
thought that was ``cute!''
Good luck, Mr. Guenette -- you will need it.
Denis E. Murphy, Embrun
Copyright Ottawa Citizen 1998 All Rights Reserved.
Title: Ottawa rejects spending abuse charges
Source: Calgary Herald, December 11, 1998, Final Edition, p.B12
The federal government has dug in its heels against two
public servants who have filed a $36-million lawsuit alleging
rampant abuse of taxpayers' dollars and relentless harassment by
their superiors for refusing to keep quiet about it.
A federal response to the suit characterizes the accusations as
"mischievous and irrational" and argues any physical and emotional
distress suffered by the two employees had nothing to do with their
treatment by supervisors in the Foreign Affairs Department.
The statement, filed in the Ontario Court, says the case should be
thrown out because the allegations are unwarranted and
The lawsuit, launched last June, charges there have been at least
$2 billion of unnecessary and unacceptable spending at diplomatic
facilities abroad since 1986.
The government statement, a lengthy point-by-point denial of the
allegations, signals it is prepared to put up a vigorous defence if
the case isn't dismissed before it gets to trial.
John Guenette, one of the public servants, said he and colleague
Joanna Gualtieri, 37, are braced for battle despite mounting legal
costs, adding they have no shortage of evidence of wrongdoing and
are organizing documents for court.
Guenette and Gualtieri, who are on unpaid leave from the
department, say they their efforts to expose abuses met a brick
wall. Management ignored the information and "deliberately chose a
pattern of conduct that degraded, marginalized and demeaned them,
stripping them of their duties," they say in their statement of
The federal government replied that if the duo suffered harm it was
caused by their "failure or willful refusal to recognize and follow
the lines of authority and decision-making' and "their failure or
willful refusal to avail themselves of available avenues of
The government rejected charges the employees were sidelined after
they started to make waves.
The lawsuit names the federal attorney general, Foreign Affairs
Minister Lloyd Axworthy and eight department officials. At a
pre-trial hearing last month, the government failed to have the
defendants reduced to just the attorney general.
Copyright Calgary Herald 1998 All Rights Reserved.
Title: Condos once thought too lavish, now home to Canadian diplomats: Foreign Affairs defends decision to spend $1.1M on spacious units in Guatemala City
Source: Ottawa Citizen, February 14, 1999, Final Edition, p.A3
The apartment complex lived up to its name -- the Premiere
Spacious and secure with magnificent vistas. Three swimming pools.
Two tennis courts and two squash courts. A gym and a clubhouse. In
short, an oasis within steamy, crime-infested Guatemala City.
No wonder administration personnel at the Canadian Embassy there
recommended purchasing three apartments -- at $255,000 U.S. each --
in the Premiere Club in 1995 as part of the Department of Foreign
Affairs' plan to ditch expensive, leased space in favour of buying
properties in various capitals.
It looked like a done deal until an official from Ottawa arrived on
the scene in early 1995.
Joanna Gualtieri, a portfolio manager in Foreign Affairs' Bureau of
Physical Resources, balked after seeing the complex, which was still
under construction, and studying floorplans.
In a Jan. 23, 1995, memo to her Ottawa boss Frank Townson and
embassy administrators, she said the apartments were too large and
extravagant and that more suitable, secure and less costly housing
``It appears the Premiere Club is, in fact, marketing a lifestyle
-- one that will attract and appeal to wealthy, affluent
Guatemalans,'' she wrote.
``Suffice to say that the issue is not whether the units adequately
meet our requirement but, rather, whether the units simply exceed
what could reasonably be defended as appropriate housing.''
Within days of her memo arriving in Ottawa, the Premiere Club
purchases were abandoned and Ms. Gualtieri was instructed to find
more suitable, cost-effective housing.
She identified six properties, a mix of houses and apartment units,
that would meet the embassy's requirements. One house was eventually
purchased for $168,000 U.S., but no action was taken on the other
suggestions, all with pricetags lower than the Premiere Club.
Instead, 26 months after rejecting the Premiere Club as too lavish,
the government bought three in March 1997 for almost $1.1 million
Foreign Affairs defends the Guatemala purchases, but offers no
direct explanation as to why units deemed too lavish in 1995 were
acceptable in 1997.
James Fox, who was ambassador to Guatemala when the purchases were
aborted, refuses comment, although the documents show he favoured
searching for more reasonable accommodation. Daniel Livermore,
ambassador when the purchases were made, has also declined public
Department spokesman Valerie Noftle says the three units were
considered a good buy and a good investment because their value on
the market has increased steadily in the last two years.
She says they provide secure housing with protected outdoor space
in a high-crime city. Security guards are part of the gated complex,
meaning the government doesn't have to provide and finance 24-hour
guards, she adds.
Ms. Noftle says the annual cost of housing diplomats in Guatemala
has been reduced to $112,000 a year from $325,000 a year since 1995
because there are fewer rental properties and lower security costs.
She also says the apartments conform to Treasury Board guidelines;
documents show they do not. A 1995 memo from Christal Becker, an
architect in the Bureau of Physical Resources, put the size of the
apartments at 186 square metres, at least 40 square metres larger
than Treasury Board provisions for a unit that contains three
bedrooms and a den, or family room.
The documents show that soon after the Premiere Club purchases were
cancelled early in January 1995, Ambassador Fox, who according to
Ms. Gualtieri's notes took a keen interest in the project, was told
by Mr. Townson that he could proceed with the purchase of at least
four units identified by Ms. Gualtieri.
But the documents also indicate some Guatemala-based diplomats were
upset at the last-minute decision to ditch the Premiere apartments
in favour of less spacious, cheaper options in less convenient and
less secure zones.
A March 2, 1995, memo from Christine Brassard, administration
officer at the embassy, suggests the degree of the unhappiness after
the Premiere purchases were aborted.
She wrote that Ms. Gualtieri had essentially pulled the plug on the
Premiere Club purchases after only ``three working days in the
Ms. Brassard concludes Ms. Gualtieri and headquarters had put price
above other considerations, including security, access to
recreational and other facilities and investment value.
In a Telex to Mr. Fox, Mr. Townson acknowledged the staff's concern
about a ``perceived downgrading in the accommodation being
provided.'' But he added; ``The fiscal realities with which the
government is faced demand that every effort be made to reduce
expenditures wherever possible.''
Ms. Gualtieri's notes say Mr. Fox was dealing with a ``full-fledged
mutiny'' by Canadian staff unhappy with the new housing proposals
and that he was not getting the support and direction he wanted from
On March 8, Ms. Gualtieri says Mr. Fox told her he was at the ``end
of how far he will go'' with the housing project, that he had
``stuck his head (out) and got it cut off.''
Part of the problem, the documents indicate, was confusion over who
had final authority to order the purchases, the ambassador or the
bureaucrats in Ottawa.
In the end, all purchases were put on hold, pending development of
a new strategy.
The new strategy -- 26 months later -- turned out to be purchasing
the once-rejected Premiere Club apartments.
Copyright Ottawa Citizen 1999 All Rights Reserved.
Title: Government whistleblowers move closer to trial
Source: The Ottawa Citizen, July 15, 1999, Final Edition, p.D8
A $36-million lawsuit by two Department of Foreign Affairs
employees has moved a step closer to trial.
John Guenette and Joanna Gualtieri filed a lawsuit last year
against the federal government , alleging they were emotionally
abused and ostracized for questioning spending on the overseas
accommodations enjoyed by foreign service officers.
The statement of claim said the culture and environment at Foreign
Affairs did not allow them to do their jobs with integrity.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs and defendant were involved in
examinations for discovery last week.
Charles Gibson, lawyer for Mr. Guenette and Ms. Guarltieri, said Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd xworthy could be a witness. However, government lawyer Linda Wall said it is unlikely
Mr. Axworthy will appear because he had little to do with the
situation. ``He doesn't even know these people,'' she said.
Copyright Ottawa Citizen 1999 All Rights Reserved.
Title: Spin doctors have all the 'answers': From 'good' stories to 'no comment,' foreign affairs ready
Spin doctors in Ottawa have prepared an extensive
communications strategy to save the department of foreign affairs
from "embarrassment" caused by claims of diplomats living the high
The strategy was developed to counter the negative publicity
surrounding the housing of overseas staff at Canadian diplomatic
missions, documents obtained by The Province show.
Admitting that some parts of the allegations by department
employee, Joanna Gualtieri have been found to be true, the
backgrounder to the strategy paper reads ". . . the evidence may be
quite embarrassing to the department since it concerns what these
employees have portrayed as a gross neglect and mismanagement of
taxpayer money in the selection of accommodation for employees
Two federal bureaucrats familiar with government communications
said the strategy outline, prepared late last year, would have cost
tens of thousands of dollars to prepare.
Using surveys to predict public response to the issue, one of the
draft documents for the strategy admits that even if the department
of foreign affairs and international trade presents extremely
positive evidence about its own decisions in this case, the public
may not trust the defence.
Among other things, the communications strategy suggests:
- Targeting specific journalists to dispel myths about diplomats
living the high life.
- Seizing opportunities to communicate good news stories about
spending on diplomacy.
- Bringing attention to the opening of single-person diplomatic
missions to exhibit low-cost postings.
- Hiring a writer and photographer to interview civil servants
abroad to show the challenges and living conditions in the chance a
national newspaper may pick it up and help temper public
- Preparing a list of answers for ministers and department
bureaucrats in the event of media scrums. The list of responses
several times suggests the widely used "we cannot comment because
the case is before the courts."
- Providing low-key responses to the media which entails the
department's media relations office answering questions
"superficially" using prepared responses and refusing access to
staff who are directly involved.
The communications strategy also prepared an extensive
question-and-answer brief for the Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd
Axworthy, in the event the opposition Reform Party raised the issue
in the House of Commons. Axworthy has not had the chance to use it
Copyright The Province (Vancouver) 1999 All Rights Reserved.