LETTERS - Frustration over HSS ignoring attempts at communication
Health and Social Services Deputy Minister Stephen Samis has a track record of withholding information and misleading the public
During the first wave of the COVID pandemic I was forced to shut my business and was unable to work for 3 months.
When the Government enacts the Civil Emergency Measures Act, it takes away the right to work, the right to freedom of movement, and assembly.
By taking away the most basic rights we have as citizens, the government's actions must be backed up with clear information, robust scientific research/stats, and a clear guideline as to the parameters of the emergency. Anything less is an abuse of the democratic principles of government.
None of this information was forthcoming from our very well paid Chief Medical Officer of Health. I emailed requests for the research papers they [the Government of Yukon] were basing decisions upon, a copy of the summary being sent to ministers, or any pertinent information they were able to share.
Not only did I not receive any information, I didn't even receive a reply. I followed up with more emails and phone calls. No one ever replied.
I waited for information at the press conferences, but was told nothing of the research decisions were being based upon, the specifics of infection rates, where they would need to be, and for how long before we could re-open. Instead, empty platitudes about keeping each other safe and quotes from Shakespeare were meant to soothe our shredded nerves, but instead made me want to throw the laptop out the window.
More staff could have been employed at this stage to establish good public communication. Instead $1.5 million has gone to line the pockets of 2 civil servants.
I followed up with an ATIPP request asking for all COVID communication between the CMOH and YG Premier and cabinet. I was told nothing matched my request, but didn't have the time to turn my outrage into action, as I was obviously up against a bureaucracy that did not want any level of oversight or input from the public.
Civil emergency acts need robust cross checks to maintain social buy-in. If people perceive unfair treatment, they stop following guidelines.
Funding real public relations departments that keep the public informed is not an optional extra. As we have seen from this report [previously referenced WN story], the money is there, just not the will, leaving us - the public - vulnerable to further abuses, instead of establishing the minimum level of information required by the public during times the Civil Emergency Measures Act is enacted.
Editors' Note on the above reader's letter:
Yukon's Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) has a hefty track record of withholding information and misleading the public.
On April 16 2018, the department's deputy minister Stephen Samis made statements to the press implying that a whistleblower was lying when he came forward with grave concerns about how the government's group homes, which Samis is responsible for, were being run. The whistleblower, Jarrett Parker, was a manager at HSS until he was fired by Samis after raising the concerns.
Seven weeks later, on June 8, 2018, Samis was responsible for a raid on the offices of a walk-in service for at-risk Yukon youth. His people on the ground told the employees in the office that they had to leave the building because of "plumbing and heating issues." HSS later admitted this was a lie and that there were no such issues. The widely held belief is that Samis ordered the raid to try to identify which workers were whistleblowing.
Another 12 weeks later, on September 3, 2018, the Government of Yukon was forced to publicly apologize after former CBC journalist Nancy Thomson published shocking accounts of mistreatment of youths in the group homes.
Samis never did publicly apologize to the original whistleblower Parker. Not surprisingly, Parker left the Yukon for good after Samis publicly implied that he was a liar. Samis was in turn rewarded for his conduct by Yukon Premier Sandy Silver who allowed him to keep his job which, according to the Yukon Government's pay grid for deputy ministers, pays between $182,079 and $243,581 a year (Samis now being on the higher end of the scale because of years served).
Samis has also dragged out for almost three years a request for information by the Yukon's Ombudsperson Diane McLeod-McKay. The information is necessary in order for McLeod-McKay to complete her investigation of a complaint regarding HSS. Samis is working to prevent McLeod-McKay from getting the information and is using taxpayer dollars and resources to fund his strategy.
McLeod-McKay had no choice but to bring the matter to the Supreme Court of Yukon in December 2020. The ongoing court action means that the refusal of Samis to hand over the information is likely to cost the taxpayer millions of dollars in departmental time and resources, government lawyer time and resources, and the Ombudsperson's time and resources also.
Deputy ministers in the Yukon are politically appointed. This means that Silver, or whomever the Premier happens to be, can at any time fire or hire a deputy minister. The system ensures that the ruling party effectively has major influence over the actions of a department. A deputy minister is free to stand up to the Premier but risks losing a highly-paid job by doing so.