Former Alberta medical examiner testifies she was ‘forbidden’ to describe her office as ‘independent’ during wrongful dismissal trial

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Former Alberta chief medical examiner Dr. Anny Sauvageau testified at her wrongful dismissal trial that she was forbidden to use the word “independent” and outlined issues with the chain of custody and preservation of evidence, court heard Monday.

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Sauvageau took to the stand for the second day of the scheduled eight-week trial, outlining what she believed her role to be as chief medical examiner, her working relationship with colleagues, and issues she identified within the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME). ).

Sauvageau, Alberta’s top forensic pathologist from 2011 to 2014, is suing the Government of Alberta for $7.5 million, claiming her contract was not renewed because she stood up to political interference in her office.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

In January 2014, in response to a joint investigation by the Edmonton Journal and CalgaryHerald into deaths in foster care, a series of roundtables were organized to address issues related to child death investigations.

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The main recommendation that came out of the roundtables was to create a child death review committee that would be chaired by the chief medical examiner. The report noted the OCME operates at arm’s length from the government, Sauvageau testified.

She said she genuinely believed at the time that she was being told by the government that her office was independent.

The use of the phrase “independent office of the chief medical examiner” became a source of discussion between Sauvageau and Maryann Everett — previously listed as a defendant in the case — the assistant deputy minister to whom she reported.

Sauvageau was working with justice department officials to draft changes to the Fatality Inquiries Act that would allow her to chair the death review committee. She testified that on June 25, 2014, she had a phone conversation with Everett which gave her concern.

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“She clearly told me at the time that my office was not independent and was not at arm’s length,” Sauvageau said. She had another conversation with Everett in August, where she said she was “forbidden” by Everett to use the word “independent” and “at arm’s length” to describe her office de ella.

Abolishing the Fatality Review Board would have been among the changes to the act she was working on, Sauvageau said. Instead, powers would be provided directly to the chief medical examiner. Sauvageau thought if her office de ella is not independent and at arm’s length, then giving her those powers would be “very dangerous.”

“Those powers are good only if you are independent, otherwise it’s kind of a smoke and mirrors system or puppet system where the decision you make can be undone just by an order from above, or politically motivated or bureaucratically motivated,” Sauvageau said.

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She said she requested, through Everett’s office, to have a meeting with deputy minister Tim Grant, but the meeting was not granted.

“I never heard about it again,” she said.

Sauvageau said she stopped working on the changes to the Fatalities Inquiries Act because she was not comfortable moving forward unless there was “clear reassurance” of the status of her office in regards to being at arm’s length and independent.

She also alleged there were issues with the chain of custody and preservation of evidence.

Sauvageau testified the firearms log was not properly updated and there were a number of missing firearms. She also said she discovered medication was not properly logged after receiving a complaint an employee was going into the drug cabinet and self-medicating.

She said there were instances where items were stolen or disappeared from bodies which was then reported to the Edmonton police and Calgary police services.

“The worst event (was) cocaine that went missing and $2,000 that (was) missing,” she said.

Sauvageau is expected to continue her testimony Tuesday.

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