TORONTO — The former head of a public health unit is looking to Canada’s top court to keep secret the embarrassing details of her personal relationship with a convicted fraudster the agency hired as its chief financial officer.
In urging the Supreme Court of Canada to weigh in, Dr. Kim Barker warns public interest considerations will unfairly trample personal privacy concerns if court-ordered disclosure of the sensitive information is allowed to stand.
“The ‘public interest override’ provision found in access to information or privacy legislation across the country is an exceptional measure,” Barker argues in her leave application. “(It is) to be applied only when it has been established that the public interest in disclosure is ‘clearly’ greater than preventing an unjustified invasion of personal privacy.”
The case arose in 2013, when Algoma Public Health based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., hired Shaun Rothberg as its interim CFO for six months ending in May 2014. His hiring came after his predecessor left amid criminal charges of breach of trust and theft.
Rothberg, however, turned out to be Shaun Rootenberg, of Thornhill, Ont., who had a criminal record for multiple counts of fraud. The revelation, by media outlet SooToday, prompted Barker to resign in early 2015, sparking questions about her role in his hiring and whether their personal relationship had put her in an undisclosed conflict of interest.
The health unit has long wanted to release the resulting forensic report under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to “inform the citizenry about the activities of the institution during a time when its integrity was in question.” The province’s privacy commissioner agreed a “compelling public interest in the disclosure” outweighed Barker’s privacy concerns.
Barker, who says she is legally blind as a result of contracting malaria in Tanzania in 2003, maintains releasing the KPMG report will make her a double victim.
“What I object to is my revictimization by releasing information in the report about how Mr. Rootenberg exploited my disability to manipulate me,” Barker, of Toronto, told The Canadian Press in an email. “It is personally hurtful to have to admit that my visual disability allowed me to become the victim of a professional con man.”
In April, the Ontario Court of Appeal acknowledged the significant personal distress releasing the audit would cause Barker but, unlike Divisional Court, ruled the public interest in how Algoma Public Health hired Rootenberg outweighed her privacy interests. The doctor was a senior public official accountable to the community, the health unit board as well as the Ministry of Health, the appellate court said.
The Appeal Court, in line with the wishes of the health unit and the privacy commissioner ruling, ordered full release of the KPMG audit.
In her Supreme Court filing, Barker says the Court of Appeal decision would upset the balancing exercise contained in information and privacy legislation across the country, potentially resulting in unjust intrusions on personal privacy in the name of transparency.
Barker, who is in her late 40s, said she has never objected to making public part of the March 2015 report that focuses on the financial aspects of Rootenberg’s stint as the health unit’s chief financial officer. The audit found no misappropriation of money under her watch, she said.
In 2017, Toronto police accused Rootenberg of using dating sites to lure victims into an intimate relationship before defrauding them.
The privacy commissioner’s office said it would oppose Barker’s application for leave to the Supreme Court.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press