“It’s always part of the wrongdoers strategy to first attack the truth teller and drag out the proceeding until the public forgets the story. The violations of law get forgotten but the questions of the whistleblowers integrity linger. It’s a horrible way to repay someone who stood up for others. Especially vulnerable populations who have no voice.” – Evelyn Brown, founder and CEO of Whistlewatch.org
If there are ghosts from the past which need to be exorcised by the incoming Cornwall City Council, I would argue that its treatment of staff members who risked all by going public with problems at Glen Stor Dun Lodge more than four years ago will likely haunt council the most.
How the city finally lays to rest the mistreatment and vilification of Diane Shay and Julie Johnston could well be one of council’s greatest achievements in the coming term, but it could also unravel into its greatest downfall.
For those who have been hiding under a rock the past four years, the Shay case made history not only in Cornwall, but across the province — and for all the wrong reasons. The case resulted in the first ever conviction in Ontario of a municipality under the province’s whistleblower protection legislation.
The city pleaded guilty after viciously retaliating against Shay, going as far as to eliminate her job, after she reported a case of elder abuse at Glen Stor Dun Lodge — as required by law — against the instructions of her supervisor, then lodge administrator Donna Derouchie, former city human resources manager Robert Menagh and former city chief administrative officer Paul Fitzpatrick.
Johnston was hunted down by lodge management and grilled by Menagh for twice writing anonymous letters to coucil members about cost cutting measures at the lodge under Derouchie’s administration which she believed compromised patient care. The letters were intercepted by Mayor Bob Kilger and, insteading of addressing the problems raised, a witch hunt was commenced to find and punish the anonymous complainant.
So what went wrong? Why did two people who were acting in the best interest of the frail and elderly — among the most vulnerable in society — treated in such an outrageously punitive manner? Perhaps the public will finally get these answers if Shay’s most recent lawsuit proceeds to trial for a full airing of the facts.
If Shay’s case does go to trial, it may not be pretty for some of the returning members of council — especially Bernadette Clement and Elaine MacDonald, who had a direct role to play in the matter as members of the joint city-counties committee charged with oversight of the lodge. Neither have so far accounted for their actions publicly, nor have they apologized to Shay or Johnston for their mistreatment at the hands of the city. In fact, mayor-elect Leslie O’Shaughnessy is the only council member to offer an apology to Shay around the time the he resigned in disgust over the way the issue was being handled by council and the administration of the time.
It is time for some truth and reconciliation after the scandalous past four years of the old council. The ghosts of the past need to be put to rest and new rules and structures must be implemented to ensure this vindicative, take-no-prisoners approach in responding to whistleblowers never happens again.
An apology and a thank you to Shay and Johnston for actually standing up for the rights of some of the most vulnerable residents in this vaunted home for the elderly would certainly be a good start.
Greg Kielec is a career reporter and newspaper editor with more than 25 years experience covering municipal politics in Cornwall in the surrounding area. He most recently worked for The/Le Journal, where he covered Cornwall City Hall extensively. Prior to that he spent more than 10 years at the Standard-Freeholder in Cornwall as reporter, wire editor and assistant city editor.