Alberta government challenges allegations by ex-medical examiner

Dr. Anny Sauvageau alleges she was fired after flagging concerns about political interference

EDMONTON – The Alberta government’s response to a lawsuit filed by its former chief medical officer calls her “obstructionist, confrontational and disrespectful.”

In a statement of defence filed Monday, the province alleges Dr. Anny Sauvageau has only herself to blame for not getting her contract renewed.

“(Sauvageau) was either unwilling or unable to function properly as a responsible chief medical examiner,” reads the statement of defence filed in Court of Queen’s Bench.

The defendants include Justice Minister Jonathan Denis and other senior government officials.

Sauvageau filed a wrongful dismissal suit earlier this month. She claims that her contract was not renewed after she began flagging concerns about political interference in her department and about the province’s contract to pick up and transport bodies.

Sauvageau alleges the government tried to get her to bend the rules about viewing bodies in her office and claims that former premier Dave Hancock once tried to get her to review the cause of death in one specific case.

She also claims one senior bureaucrat once told her that her job was “to make the minister look good.”

The defendants, in the statement of defence, deny those allegations.

Sauvageau also alleges the government signed a questionable deal with the Alberta Funeral Services Association to top up body transportation contracts by $3 million.

She claims she was also getting complaints that included a body being taken away in a pickup truck, a funeral home worker wearing a skating costume to a death scene and staff taking crime scene photos for private collections.

The Alberta Funeral Services Association has said the complaints were never substantiated.

The province, in its defence statement, claims it doesn’t know if the complaints are true, but says they are irrelevant because they are outside Sauvageau’s job description.

“Medical examiners in Alberta are independent in their professional areas, which include conducting autopsies and issuing reports,” says the statement.

“(Sauvageau) claimed that this gave her complete autonomy over many non-medical, administrative and policy matters that were outside her legal authority.”

The province alleges Sauvageau insisted on intervening anyway and wanted control over odometer readings and upholstery conditions of body transport trucks.

It also claims she wanted to dictate what drivers wore and whether they had to change clothes before arriving at her office.

The government alleges Sauvageau created “an atmosphere of apprehension, intimidation, and low morale amongst staff.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

Sauvageau was told last September, a day after she said she took her complaints to Premier Jim Prentice, that her contract would not be renewed.

Prentice has said he did not intervene in the dispute, but rather let Denis handle it.

Last week, the province announced that Jeffery Gofton, Alberta’s assistant chief medical examiner, will take over the top job.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.