A minister in deep denial of departmental bias and incompetence

At the legislature Thursday, two key developments in the scandal enveloping the Department of Community Services and its minister, Denise Peterson-Rafuse.

  • The Progressive Conservatives demanded the minister’s resignation, arguing she had breached Nova Scotia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) Act by allowing the department to publish a report that violated Fr. Paul Abbass’s privacy by repeating false innuendo against him even after the CBRM police looked into allegations advanced by DCS and found no grounds to open a criminal investigation.
  • In a scrum with reporters from the Cape Breton Post and Halifax Metro, Peterson-Rafuse made a string of statements about the department’s actions that — how to put this politely? — were starkly at odds with the known and verifiable facts of the case.

The Tories contend that by releasing the report of its review of Talbot House, Peterson-Rafuse’s ministry violated a section of the act that bars “disclosure harmful to personal privacy.” It reads in part:

20 (1) The head of a public body shall refuse to disclose personal information to an applicant if the disclosure would be an unreasonable invasion of a third party’s personal privacy.

(2) In determining pursuant to subsection (1) or (3) whether a disclosure of personal information constitutes an unreasonable invasion of a third party’s personal privacy, the head of a public body shall consider all the relevant circumstances, including whether…

(g) the personal information is likely to be inaccurate or unreliable;

(h) the disclosure may unfairly damage the reputation of any person referred to in the record requested by the applicant.

In a scrum with reporters from the Cape Breton Post and Halifax Metro, Peterson-Rafuse flatly denied the report contained anything that impugned Abbass’s reputation:

Well, there was no accusations published. If you read the review, it’s organizational review. It talks about, it’s asking about policies, it’s asking about staffing policies, it’s asking about when they were doing day trips, or overnight trips, it was asking about professional development, this is just a fabrication from the Tories.

In fact, the report contains lengthy sections about the Executive Director, who was Fr. Abbass, and recounts complaints made about him by “stakeholders,” the report’s peculiar term for staff members of three government-run addiction and detox services. The section reads, in part:

  • Eight stakeholders had received complaints from clients regarding the behavior of the ED [Fr. Abbass]. Some of these complaints were as recent as 2011. Although stakeholders indicated that they had encouraged these clients to come forward and make a formal complaint, it appears that no complaints were made to the TH Board.
  • Stakeholders who received complaints from residents felt compelled to keep the information confidential given their therapeutic relationship with clients….
  • As a result of these complaints, stakeholders either refused to make referrals to TH, or they had clients call TH on their own for self-referral. Some stakeholders will assess a client’s vulnerability and only refer those who ‘could take care of themselves’ to TH.

I think any fair-minded reader would rate this a perfect fit for the definition of innuendo: “an oblique remark or hint, typically a suggestive or disparaging one.” Bear in mind the widespread publicity given to the fact that police had looked into allegations of sexual abuse by Fr. Abbass.

For Rafuse to contend that the report contained “no accusations” does not reflect well on her personal honesty, integrity, or judgment. For the department to publish this thinly veiled defamation, after the police rejected its “evidence” of sexual abuse, amounts to a degree of official character assassination I cannot recall seeing in 40 years of following Nova Scotia politics.

I reproduce the brief extract from the DCS report with misgivings, because, if taken literally and believed, it will further damage Fr. Abbass’s already unfairly besmirched reputation. I do so solely to demonstrate the falsehood of Peterson-Rafuse’s comments yesterday.

Readers should most certainly not take that passage at face value. First, the so-called evidence was rejected by police. Second, the report is riddled with factual errors (as this detailed rebuttal shows). The errors all tend to show Talbot House and Fr. Abbass in an unjustly negative light. Its review of the centre’s financial records is incompetent on its face.

The Minister and the department remain in such deep denial about the incompetence and bias that permeated the review of Talbot House, they appear willing to perpetuate discredited and slanderous allegations rather than admit error.

That a report this grossly flawed was produced and approved warrants a thorough independent investigation of the department’s standards and practices. That it was released after police rejected the cruel falsehood at its core is ample grounds for the minister’s removal.