The B.C. government has expanded the province’s whistleblower protection law to a number of Crown corporations, boards and government agencies that were previously excluded.
The change, effective Dec. 1, was announced a week after The Tyee reported that several former BC Housing employees had concerns former CEO Shayne Ramsay had broken a conflict of interest protocol by discussing funding and projects related to a non-profit organization headed by his spouse, Janice Abbott.
The employees spoke to The Tyee anonymously because they continue to fear professional repercussions.
Ramsay resigned in August, saying increasing violence in the Downtown Eastside and hostility to social housing projects convinced him it was time to step down.
The acting CEO of BC Housing, Vincent Tong, sent an email to all employees at the Crown corporation on the change in legislation. In the email obtained by the Tyee, Tong writes that BC Housing has created a whistleblower policy and procedure, which all staff will be trained on in the new year.
B.C.’s whistleblower protections have been extended to a total of 39 government organizations, including BC Hydro, ICBC, Community Living British Columbia and BC Transit. A full list can be found here.
The province’s Provincial Interest Disclosure Act was passed in 2018, and was created in response to the Health Ministry’s wrongful dismissal of seven people, including researcher Roderick MacIsaac, who later committed suicide. The legislation aims to allow “current and former employees to confidentially share information about serious wrongdoing that affects the public interest with designated officers within their organizations or to the Office of the Ombudsperson.”
According to a government press release, health authorities and educational institutions will be included in the act by 2024.
The legislation change comes after Premier David Eby was questioned by the BC Liberals in the legislature about problems at BC Housing.
In response to those questions, Eby revealed for the first time that BC Housing is undergoing a forensic audit that will be completed in the new year. This summer, the B.C. government abruptly fired BC Housing’s board.
BC Housing, Ramsay and Abbott haven’t responded to the allegations that Ramsay discussed funding decisions that related to Atira Women’s Resource Society, an organization headed by Abbott since 1992 that has grown to be the largest provider of supportive housing funded by BC Housing.
The BC Liberals said they had obtained 2018 text messages from an anonymous whistleblower. The messages, a copy of which The Tyee has obtained, appear to show Ramsay suggesting projects that could be given to Atira and discussing funding decisions around specific programs.
BC Housing says it has now engaged an independent ethics commissioner “to assess and provide advice on the specific allegations in [The Tyee’s] article.”
A post on Atira’s website last week from Abbott and Atira’s board addressed one aspect of the concerns raised by the BC Liberals, a 2018 draft report by accounting firm BDO Canada LLP, which detailed the financial problems that had been dogging Atira Women’s Resource Society for several years. The BDO report was commissioned by BC Housing.
A draft version of the report obtained by the Tyee said Atira was repeatedly coming to BC Housing for more funding, but staff were having a hard time determining whether the requests were justified.
The Tyee has previously reported that BC Housing’s executive team wanted to suspend funding of new projects until Atira’s financial problems could be addressed, but were overruled by then-board chair Cassie Doyle.
In the post, Abbott said the BDO report was commissioned by an unnamed male BC Housing executive who disliked her and called her misogynistic slurs. She said working with the BDO auditors was time consuming for her staff and she eventually came to see the review as “personal.” Abbott said after she complained to Doyle an internal investigation of her complaints was completed and the BDO review was moved to BC Housing’s internal auditors.
The internal auditing team determined that Atira had been underfunded “for several years” and BC Housing agreed to pay Atira $686,242 in 2019.
Doyle also apologized to Abbott for how she had been treated during the review, Abbott says in her post. Doyle declined an interview request from The Tyee.
In her post, Abbott acknowledges that Atira did have “cash flow issues” and problems keeping qualified accounting staff at the time of the BDO report, and said her non-profit organization was underfunded and not able to afford competitive salaries.
Abbott also said she has a final version of the BDO report and would like to share it, but has not been able to get permission from the other parties involved. Abbott did not respond to an interview request from The Tyee.