From the moment that B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced that her chief of staff, Ken Boessenkool, was leaving because of an unspecified personal indiscretion, details about what happened and the investigation that followed were elusive.
But as the media began to shine a light on the events leading up to the Sept. 23 resignation of the Premier’s top political adviser, a long and disturbing shadow began to grow over Ms. Clark’s handling of the matter.
This week, the Boessenkool affair took another troubling turn, one that has damaged the integrity of the B.C. Public Service Agency and undoubtedly left civil servants throughout government incensed and demoralized.
As has been widely reported, Mr. Boessenkool was dismissed for purportedly making an unwanted advance at a Victoria bar toward a young female political staffer in the B.C. government. In his letter of resignation, which did not describe what happened, Mr. Boessenkool admitted to acting “inappropriately” and said he regretted his behaviour. He apologized to his wife and four young daughters.
At the time, Premier Clark told a news conference she had known about the matter for about two weeks. She said that as soon as her chief of staff informed her about what had happened, she asked Lynda Tarras, head of the Public Service Agency, to commence an investigation.
This didn’t stop Ms. Clark from taking Mr. Boessenkool with her on a business trip to China the next day.
In the interim, a Vancouver television station was tipped off about the encounter in the bar, which prompted calls by a reporter to the Premier’s office. It wasn’t long after this that Mr. Boessenkool’s departure was announced, leaving some to wonder whether it would have occurred had the media not been alerted.
This week, The Vancouver Sun revealed the result of a freedom-of-information request for all documentation related to the investigation carried out by Ms. Tarras. The newspaper was informed there wasn’t any; the entire probe was handled “verbally,” the Premier’s office said. Not a single word typed, apparently; not on a laptop, iPhone or BlackBerry.
It’s fair to say this is not the way an investigation of this nature would take place anywhere else in the country. Discrimination and sexual harassment are considered extremely serious in today’s world, and especially inside the walls of government and academia.
It’s impossible to believe that any genuine examination of an incident of this type would have occurred without a word being recorded. It would never happen, for instance, in an investigation involving rank-and-file civil servants. For legal reasons alone, the entire process would have to be documented.
Yet, in this case, one that involved one of the most powerful persons in government – the Premier’s right-hand man – there isn’t one word jotted down by the investigator. An investigator, as it happens, who is also in charge of the province’s public-service agency and responsible for ensuring that matters such as harassment are looked into according to the book, which means that all assembled facts and statements are recorded.
British Columbians should be deeply troubled about this entire mess.
Firstly, if Mr. Boessenkool was truthful with Ms. Clark about what happened between the political aide and himself – as he insists he was – then he should have been fired immediately. At the very least, he should have stayed in Victoria while the review into this conduct was being carried out. Ms. Clark showed terrible judgment in taking Mr. Boessenkool with her to China while he was under investigation.
Now we learn that the probe was conducted with zero paper trail. If so, why? Was Ms. Tarras given instructions to not put anything in writing? It’s inconceivable that someone as experienced as Ms. Tarras would carry out a highly politicized inquiry in the way she did without prompting by someone further up the food chain. A “no-notes” probe not only smells horrible but is counter to every protocol and convention that governs these types of situations.
Ms. Clark insists the review carried out by Ms. Tarras was done by the book. Ms. Tarras isn’t talking. Neither is John Dyble, deputy to the Premier and Ms. Tarras’s boss.
Meantime, the public is left to wonder whether the head of the public-service agency was in some manner manipulated by the Premier’s office for political considerations.
I’m not sure Ms. Clark understands how serious this matter is. If the public can’t trust those charged with overseeing and protecting the civil service to be impervious to political directions that place them at odds with their defined and ethical responsibilities, then we have a huge problem.
Is that what happened here? We don’t know for sure.
But it doesn’t look good. And when the people in the know aren’t talking, it’s inevitable the void will be filled with all manner of speculation and suspicion.