Watchdogs can't or won't bite on Jinny Sims case

The watchdogs and other senior officials aren't exactly straining at their leashes to look into the various complaints about Citizens' Services Minister Jinny Sims from her former constituency worker.

Kate Gillie raised several objections about Sims' handling of various issues during the six weeks she worked for the minister early this year, before she was fired.

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After that stint, she carpet-bombed numerous offices with complaints about the minister.

At least 11 offices have received communications from her, but there's not much in the way of a formal investigation.

The only official response made public so far is from Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy. He just admitted in frustration that a loophole in the law prohibits him from doing much of anything.

He posted a public response that highlights the same gap identified after Facebook ignored his recommendations from a recent investigation into its privacy lapses - his office doesn't have the clout it needs.

Vancouver lawyer Donald Sorochan had written on behalf of Gillie to McEvoy, concentrating on one complaint - improper use of personal communication modes for government business in order to dodge freedom-of-information requirements.

McEvoy replied to her privately, saying he couldn't help, but also issued a public response late last week.

He said the minister's alleged failure to do her duty was not his responsibility to probe, because of a significant shortcoming in the legislation.

So who is responsible?

Why, it's the minister herself, said McEvoy, highlighting the absurdity.

People would find it surprising "that on the face of it, the current law makes a minister responsible for investigating their own conduct," he said.

That's unacceptable, and the law needs to be changed, he urged.

Regardless of whether he has authority to pursue the matter, he said: "I can't emphasize strongly enough, yet again, that it is extremely poor practice to use personal-communication tools for public business."

The biggest reaction to Gillie's complaints was in the legislature, where the opposition jumped on the issue and spent several days demanding answers from Sims.

She said office procedures have been fixed, but insisted she had done nothing wrong.

The varied allegations of hiding from FOI, improper fundraising and questionable vouching for foreigners wanting visas need some kind of review.

But Sorochan outlined the responses the whistleblower has received to date:

The ethics commissioner and conflict-of-interest commission said they had no jurisdiction.

There was no response from two other offices.

The lobbyist registrar declined to look into it.

Attorney General David Eby, the government employees union, the NDP caucus and the premier's office have also been contacted.

The only known response was from the premier's office, where chief of staff Geoff Meggs looked into it. Sims herself disclosed that last week.

She told the house that after Gillie's allegations were received, Meggs met with the executive director of the government caucus, who deals with constituency staff.

"The allegations were reviewed and there was no evidence to support them," she said.

"The matter was dealt with by caucus because that is the right place for it to be dealt with. This is a human-resources matter."

Turn the tables and imagine the NDP in opposition accepting such a flimsy attempt to paper over a problem by the B.C. Liberals. They wouldn't buy it for a minute.

Gillie's complaints are just unsupported allegations at this point.

But it would take a lot more than Premier Horgan's chief of staff having a single meeting with a colleague and dismissing them all - according to the minister who is the subject of the complaints - to think that everything is just fine.

Sims has a track record of struggling to comply with information-management law.

She had to apologize last year after a similar argument about her practice of forwarding government business from personal devices. (One of the documents she sent was to Meggs.)

And in the few days she has been forced to defend herself again during question period, Sims has blamed staff at the same time she has taken responsibility for any mistakes, contradicted parts of her version of events and, of course, accused the opposition of playing "gotcha" politics and spreading misinformation.

There isn't much on the record to drive anyone to the conclusion that it's all just "a human-resources matter."

-- Les Leyne, Glacier Media

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