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Former federal official fails to derail integrity commissioner's probe

OTTAWA - The federal integrity watchdog is investigating a former senior official at the Canada School of Public Service, prompting her to launch an unsuccessful court bid to derail the probe.

Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Mario Dion is looking into allegations against Chantal Cousineau-Mahoney, a former vice-president and chief financial officer at the school, court documents show.

Dion's investigations are usually confidential, but the contentious case — including purported character assassination and death threats — has become a matter of public record as a result of Cousineau-Mahoney's attempt to quash the probe.

At issue are unproven allegations from 2012 that Cousineau-Mahoney engaged in improper hiring and created a toxic work environment at the school, which provides instruction to federal public servants on everything from language skills to how to run an effective meeting.

She was removed from her position and has been on extended medical leave, citing "mental stresses" from the accusations.

Cousineau-Mahoney has vigorously disputed what she calls "false and defamatory" allegations, and she has pressed Dion's office to provide her with details that go beyond the basic accusation summary she was provided in September 2012.

Last June, Dion told her that he had found four of six allegations to be unfounded, but that the remaining two were still under examination.

Cousineau-Mahoney asked the Federal Court of Canada to halt Dion's investigation, saying it did not meet the standards of fairness and natural justice.

In a submission to the court, Cousineau-Mahoney's lawyers said she had borne the brunt of blame for a major reorganization of the school that led to staff reductions and program cuts.

"Some resentful employees within the school refused to accept these changes or their impact," the submission said. "As such, (Cousineau-Mahoney) became the victim of repeated defamatory attacks and threats against her character, integrity and personal safety."

The atmosphere of "irrational resentment and personal animosity" resulted in two school employees making a death threat against her in June 2012, the submission said.

Making matters worse, a confidential letter stating Cousineau-Mahoney was under investigation began circulating within the school, the court filing said.

The "ongoing assaults on her character and integrity" have taken a heavy toll on her health, defamed her reputation, destroyed her 32-year career as a dedicated public servant and caused irreparable harm to her future employment prospects, the submission added.

Government lawyers argued that Dion's investigation was proceeding in accordance with the process established under the federal whistleblower law, and that it was "too early in the investigation" to presume Cousineau-Mahoney would be found responsible for any wrongdoing.

Federal Court Justice Peter Annis rejected Cousineau-Mahoney's plea to intervene, agreeing with the government that her request to the courts was "clearly premature."

In his November ruling, Annis noted the allegations against her could be completely rejected and, even if they are not, she could always go to court once Dion's findings have been made.

Though the integrity watchdog has already tossed out some of the allegations, he has yet to deliver a final decision on Cousineau-Mahoney's case.

Christine Lamadeleine, a spokeswoman for Dion, said the commissioner's office had "nothing further to add to what has already been made public" in the Federal Court ruling.

Lawyers for Cousineau-Mahoney did not return phone calls.

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