Alberta government fights lawsuit by former chief medical examiner

Alberta Justice is calling for the dismissal of a $5.1-million lawsuit launched by the province’s former chief medical examiner, saying her wrongful termination claims are “ill-founded, groundless and vexatious.”

Earlier this month, former chief medical examiner Dr. Anny Sauvageau launched a wrongful termination lawsuit against Justice Minister Jonathan Denis and several high-ranking officials within the department, alleging the government interfered with her office’s operations. Sauvageau’s contract was not renewed when it expired last year.

In a statement of defence filed on Monday, Alberta Justice claims Sauvageau’s lawsuit was filed “for the sole purpose of harassment” and should be dismissed.

The government claims Sauvageau’s contract was not renewed because she worked in an “obstructionist, confrontational and disrespectful” manner that created an “atmosphere of apprehension, intimidation and low-morale” among staff. Sauvageau also refused to participate in performance reviews, said the government.

“The plaintiff’s employment relationship broke down because she was unable to discharge the functions of her office in an acceptable or professional manner,” reads the statement. “The plaintiff’s claim for wrongful dismissal is bad on its face.”

The government also claims Sauvageau interfered in contract negotiations with body transportation service providers by dictating “non-medical matters” such as odometer readings on vehicles used to transport bodies, the condition of upholstery in the vehicles and the dress code of the vehicle drivers.

In her suit, Sauvageau alleges that in 2014 she was pressured to bend the rules for a former cabinet minister wanting to view a body and that she was forbidden to fire an employee because it was suggested the person might be a family relative of then Premier Dave Hancock’s deputy chief of staff.

The government says these claims “are false and have been made for an improper purpose.”

Sauvageau also alleges that she documented complaints received by her office regarding body transportation services, including claims that funeral services staff were taking pictures of crime scenes for personal collections, charging both her office and the next of kin for the same body transportation service, and funeral homes overcharging the office for body transportation outside of the fee schedule.

The government says the “possible misconduct” allegations are unknown to Alberta Justice and that they are “completely unconnected” to the decision not to renew Sauvageau’s contract. Alberta Justice refused to further comment on the lawsuit Monday as the matter is now before the courts.

Statements of claim contain allegations that have not been proven in court.

Sauvageau was hired by the province in August 2009 as an assistant chief medical examiner (CME), then promoted to deputy chief medical examiner a year later. Forensic pathologist Dr. Jeffery Gofton has taken over the position.

matthew.dykstra@sunmedia.ca

@SunMattDykstra

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