A Supreme Court of Canada ruling Thursday would have forced the Nova Scotia’s ombudsman to hand over confidential information to RCMP related to an investigation against the now-defunct Cumberland Regional Development Authority.
The decision comes after three years of wrangling over whether the Nova Scotia Office of the Ombudsman can protect whistleblowers who make complaints, or if a police investigation trumps the confidentiality of that information.
While the Supreme Court ruled in the RCMP’s favour, the issue is moot because the former development authority executive director charged with fraud-related offences has already pleaded guilty and been sentenced.
Nova Scotia’s current ombudsman, William Smith, said Thursday that despite the Supreme Court ruling, his office will not change its practice and would “protect the confidentiality” of the office if it is faced with a similar situation in the future.
However, he said complaints such as those of financial wrongdoing against the provincially funded development agency “are fairly rare,” and any requests from police for information would have to be assessed individually.
Financial audit led to RCMP involvement
In 2012, then-ombudsman Dwight Bishop began an investigation of the Cumberland County agency after his office received tips from two former employees alleging fraud-related activities.
Bishop recommended a financial audit after looking into the case.
In July 2014, PricewaterhouseCoopers examined the authority’s records and found $790,000 worth of false and questionable invoices.
The province turned over the report to RCMP and a fraud investigation was launched. During the probe, officers requested information from the ombudsman’s office.
The office turned down the request, saying the information was confidential and handing it over would discourage whistleblowers from coming forward.
A provincial court judge ruled the RCMP should receive the information but in a summary form with no quotes, no names and no identifying positions.
That did not satisfy the ombudsman, who unsuccessfully appealed to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, then to the Court of Appeal, and finally to Supreme Court of Canada.
Executive director pleaded guilty
In April 2016, RCMP laid fraud-related charges against the Cumberland Regional Development…