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Ministry Muzzled Expert on Gambling Addictions

Kuldip Gill told to say risks of putting slots on BC Ferries beyond her 'area of expertise.'

By Andrew MacLeod 17 Oct 2014 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative bureau chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

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Apparently the B.C. government is an expert on gambling experts. Slots photo via Shutterstock.

Senior finance ministry officials ordered an expert on gambling addictions to turn down an interview request from a Vancouver radio station.

Emails included in a response to a freedom of information request about the proposal to introduce slot machines on BC Ferries show that Surrey-based counsellor Kuldip Gill was ready to participate in the Feb. 2014 interview for the Simi Sara Show on CKNW, which is broadcast province-wide.

But when Gill checked with finance officials whether she could talk about her work with the ministry on gambling addiction, she was told to tell CKNW that the topic was outside her area of expertise.

"That's really sad that the government is stifling someone like that," said Claire Allen, the CKNW producer who contacted Gill. "Very disappointing."

Allen said she contacted Gill believing her to be an independent counsellor with expertise on gambling addictions.

The email exchange started with Allen writing Gill. "On Thursday's show Simi would like to discuss the news that the government will be installing slot machines on some BC Ferries despite public opposition," she wrote. "We would like to discuss how this could contribute to problem gambling in the province of BC and how people become addicted to gambling."

Allen asked if Gill could discuss those issues in a 10-minute interview.

'I am available': Gill

As part of Gill's practice, her website says, her company "has a contract with the BC Responsible and Problem Gambling Program, which provides free, confidential counselling services for gambling problems and those affected." The government lists the program on a finance ministry website detailing what the province is doing about problem gambling.

Before responding to Allen, Gill checked with David Horricks, the director of the B.C. Responsible & Problem Gambling Program in the finance ministry's Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, public affairs officer Janis Robertson and the B.C. Lottery Corporation's media relations department.

"I am available to do the pre-recorded radio interview... as per the request below," Gill wrote. "Just want to make sure that it will be okay to discuss The Responsible and Problem Gambling Services and my role." She also asked if it would be okay to mention the responsible gambling awareness week scheduled for the Lower Mainland.

Don't do the interview, Horricks wrote back, copying finance communications director Jamie Edwardson and Suzanne Bell, an executive director in the ministry's Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch. "Could you let the producer know that this topic is out of your area of expertise and they should contact Jamie Edwardson, Communications Director," he wrote.

And so Gill responded to Allen, who had spoken to her on the phone before sending the email request: "I enjoyed our conversation this morning however the topic is out of my area of expertise. You should contact Jamie Edwardson, Communications Director."

She added, "I would love another opportunity to discuss our services on the show."

Comment must come from 'appropriate sources': ministry

Asked for comment, Edwardson provided a statement from the finance ministry saying staff who are on contract to the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch have a role delivering programming, not providing comments on government policy.

"On questions of public policy, it would not be appropriate for contract consultants to speak on behalf of government," it said. "To ensure accountability, it is important that comment come from appropriate sources within government."

Gill's phone was not accepting voice messages today and she did not respond to an email by publication time.

CKNW's Allen said she remembers finding Gill's response odd. "It was kind of weird, looking back on it," she said. That the topic would be outside Gill's area of expertise seemed to contradict the information on Gill's website, she said.

According to the Kuldip Counselling and Consulting website, "Her expertise is in Addictions (drug, alcohol, and gambling) for children, teens and adults. She also has an interest in working with family members and loved ones impacted by someone's addictions to drug, alcohol and gambling."

The website also says she has a Master's degree in counselling psychology from the University of B.C. and that she has "extensive professional experience" as an addictions counsellor for Surrey Mental Health and the Fraser Health Authority.

Allen said it's normal in the radio business to have someone refuse an interview, and that as a producer she tends to move on and forget about it, so it was surprising to see the government's internal emails about her request. "I send an email asking to speak on the phone, but I don't really know what happens after that."

She said usually a potential guest and the producer would decide together whether that person is the best choice to speak about an issue, and that it's "very disappointing" that government officials would instead override that decision.  [Tyee]

Read more: BC Politics

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