CHARLOTTETOWN – Three whistleblowers whose private information was leaked from Prince Edward Island’s government to the Liberal Party are suing a former premier and other top officials for a total of $1.3 million in damages for the economic and emotional toll on their lives.
The lawsuit says that after the three women came forward at a 2011 news conference with allegations of bribery and fraud in the province’s business immigration program, personal information designed to damage their claims was deliberately given out to the media by top Liberals.
A statement of claim, which has not been proven in court, filed in the Supreme Court of Prince Edward Island by Susan Holmes, Cora Plourd Nicholson and Svetlana Tenetko, describes the action as a “conspiracy.”
The lawsuit names former premier Robert Ghiz, former innovation minister Allan Campbell, former deputy minister of economic development Michael Mayne, and former Liberal party spokesman Spencer Campbell as defendants.
Asked to comment, Ghiz said he has “no comment as the matter is before the courts.” Spencer Campbell, Allan Campbell and Mayne were not immediately available for comment.
John Kingman Phillips, a Toronto-based lawyer who was one of the lawyers who represented Omar Khadr in civil litigation, said his clients were badly mistreated.
“The privacy violation is beyond egregious. … it demands a response,” he said in an interview.
A report by the province’s privacy commissioner – completed six years after the women’s initial complaint – found the province had breached the women’s privacy rights, though it couldn’t specifically say how the leak occurred.
The statement of claim says personal information was printed out on Sept. 15, 2011, in the innovation minister’s office as the province was just weeks away from an Oct. 3 provincial election.
It also says the defendants were involved with “organizing a press release … that included defamatory statement about the plaintiffs in order to undermine their standing and the strength of their allegations against the government.”
Ghiz denounced their allegations before going on to win the election.
One of the released files revealed Nicholson’s affiliation with the Tories years earlier, as well as confidential details of a human rights complaint she’d launched for job discrimination on the basis of her political affiliation.
Emailed records of the two other employees were also shared with the media.
The women had come forward to discuss the province’s provincial nominee immigration program, alleging applications that didn’t meet criteria were approved and that bribes were provided for fast-tracked applications. Holmes also sent the allegations of fraud to federal officials at Citizenship and Immigration.
The RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency later started investigations but decided not to proceed with any charges.
The women allege in their lawsuit that the defendants had devised “a strategy … to undermine the plaintiffs’ credibility by portraying them as liars, ‘crazy,’ or partisan towards the Prince Edward Island Conservative Party.”
They also claim the intent was to “send a message to other individuals involved with the program that whistleblowers would be punished.”
The immigration program was suspended in 2011 after the federal government determined it was permitting immigrants to provide investment but didn’t have sufficient actual involvement in the businesses – as many of the PNP immigrants moved on to other parts of the country.
A more recent incarnation of the program was also shut down recently, as the majority of applicants simply didn’t start a business or created short-lived enterprises before moving on to other parts of Canada or remaining abroad.
The statement of claim says the women had provided their personal information to the Crown agency Island Investment Development Inc. on the understanding it would be kept private and not distributed, and the province was “negligent” in allowing the information out.
It also alleges that the women’s charter rights to freedom of expression and the right to “life, liberty and security of person” were violated by the defendants’ actions.
The action says the plaintiffs’ actions harmed their mental health, left them humiliated and isolated, caused them to lose income and have difficulty finding work, diminished the value of their homes and resulted in medical and prescription drug expenses.
After the release of the privacy commissioner’s report last year, Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan promised to follow the privacy commissioners’ recommendations to improve education in government on privacy rules, and create clear rules requiring an internal investigation if a privacy breach occurs.
However, Holmes said he declined to meet with her and discuss what had occurred personally, leading her to start seeking legal counsel for her lawsuit.