Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut November 08, 2016 - 1:10 pm

Nunavut man alleges senior bureaucrats tossed out rules to get rid of him

Court documents allege man's GN bosses repeatedly targetted him for reprimands, dismissal

THOMAS ROHNER
Former Government of Nunavut staffer Chas Hughes worked here, at the Cape Dorset airport, before he was dismissed in July under what he claims were unfair and illegal circumstances. Those allegations, contained in court documents, have not yet been proven in court. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)
Former Government of Nunavut staffer Chas Hughes worked here, at the Cape Dorset airport, before he was dismissed in July under what he claims were unfair and illegal circumstances. Those allegations, contained in court documents, have not yet been proven in court. (PHOTO BY THOMAS ROHNER)

For Chas Hughes, it all started with a phone call in June 2015.

That’s when Hughes was told someone was trying to fire him from his job at Nunavut’s department of Economic Development and Transportation.

Over the next year, senior department staff dragged Hughes through numerous disciplinary meetings, reprimands and suspensions.

Things came to a head this past summer when Hughes’ deputy minister yelled at him in public and then fired him.

And during that whole time, Hughes was battling serious health issues.

That’s all according to an affidavit filed in October at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.

In August, Hughes’ lawyer had filed a request for a judicial review of Hughes’ July firing as transportation programs officer with the Government of Nunavut.

That’s a job Hughes held for 10 years in Cape Dorset.

In that court request, Hughes said his bosses targeted him for firing, did not follow the Public Service Act in their attempt, tried to buy Hughes’ silence and refused to acknowledge more than 600 hours of unpaid overtime Hughes had claimed. 

Meanwhile, three harassment complaints Hughes filed within the department went nowhere, Hughes claims.

But the affidavit filed in October is a separate court process in which Hughes is asking the court to award him damages suffered for wrongful dismissal.

And the affidavit contains new, sometimes bizarre, allegations. 

None of the allegations Hughes makes in either court case have been proven in court.

According to Hughes’ affidavit, he was called into at least four “fact-finding meetings,” by his assistant deputy minister, Jim Stevens, between June 2015 and July 2016.

The allegations made against Hughes in those meetings ranged from insubordination to taking medical leaves without approval.

Stevens’ allegations were without evidence in each instance but that didn’t stop the senior bureaucrat from threatening Hughes’ job repeatedly, the affidavit said.

For example, earlier this year in April, Hughes passed through Iqaluit on his way back to Cape Dorset from a medical trip.

Hughes requested a workspace in the Iqaluit office to complete work assigned while he was on medical travel.

That request was approved by the human resources manager.

Stevens saw Hughes and began discussing work with Hughes.

“I advised ADM Stevens that I was on my own time, and asked that he ensure overtime pay was arranged if he wanted to discuss work-related issues,” the affidavit said.

Stevens walked away from Hughes and had Hughes’ workspace revoked.

Then, Stevens called Hughes into a fact-finding meeting where Stevens produced “letters of support from anonymous persons at the Iqaluit… office. These unknown parties claim they were witness to, and were upset by, my behavior,” the affidavit said.

But when asked by Hughes, the only employee who witnessed the incident at the Iqaluit office said he did not hear the conversation between Hughes and Stevens.

Still, deputy minister Sherri Rowe suspended Hughes for one day for that incident.

Fast forward to July 7 when Hughes passed through Iqaluit on his way back from another medical trip.

The two senior bureaucrats, Rowe and Stevens, were waiting for Hughes when he got off the plane, the affidavit said.

Rowe ordered Hughes to report for work in Iqaluit the following day, despite Hughes insisting he was still on medical travel and physically unwell.

When Hughes did not report for work the following day, Stevens scheduled yet another fact-finding meeting.

On July 8, Hughes continued his trip home to Cape Dorset.

But both Stevens and Rowe again confronted Hughes at the Iqaluit airport, demanding he take two envelopes.

When Hughes refused, the envelopes fell on the floor and Stevens began taking pictures of Hughes, the affidavit said.

Other passengers looked on at the strange scene.

Rowe gave the envelopes to an airline agent, but Hughes said he refused to take the envelopes from the agent too.

That’s when, “Ms. Rowe shouted to all of those around, including my fellow passengers and airline staff, that she wanted to have everyone witness my refusal in accepting the envelopes,” said the affidavit.

Later that day, Hughes received correspondence informing him he was on a 30-day suspension pending investigation into his conduct, and that Hughes was required to attend another fact-finding meeting later that month

After that fact-finding meeting, the GN fired Hughes.

But neither Stevens nor Rowe disclosed to Hughes the results of the investigation that led to his dismissal.

That’s contrary to Nunavut’s Public Service Act, Hughes argued.

This past June, in an effort to quell what appear to be a rising number of harassment complaints from GN employees, Nunavut MLAs voted unanimously in favour of studying the possibility an arm’s length public service commission for Nunavut.

But all cabinet members voted against that motion.

In the fall sitting, scheduled to continue until Nov. 8, Finance Minister Keith Peterson challenged regular MLAs to table information that shows the government’s human resource management has fared worse since the department was dissolved and its duties split among two different departments in 2013.

Peterson defended the government’s position during the recent sitting saying Nunavut’s human resource management has in fact improved but at least some of his figures were refuted by Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak.

 

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