National Newswatch

TORONTO — The former head of a public health unit on Thursday lost her last bid to keep secret a report that details her personal relationship with a convicted fraudster the agency hired as its chief financial officer.

However, despite the Supreme Court of Canada's refusal to weigh in on the case, the report involving Dr. Kim Barker remained under wraps for the time being.

"On advice from Algoma Public Health legal counsel, the applicant can request within 30 days the Supreme Court of Canada to reconsider," unit spokesman Leo Vecchio said.

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.

Barker, who says she is legally blind, has spent several years fighting release of the KPMG forensic report into the situation. She said ahead of the Supreme Court decision that she is being revictimized.

"Though it is hurtful to have to hear that my visual disability and associated insecurities allowed me to become the victim of a professional conman now awaiting sentencing for defrauding another woman, I am glad the KPMG report found no money was misappropriated during my tenure."

The health unit has long wanted to release the document 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.

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, prompting her now failed attempt to involve the Supreme Court.

Rootenberg was found guilty earlier this year of defrauding another woman. However, he is awaiting a ruling on his request to stay the proceedings on the grounds that his charter rights were violated because of the strip searches he was subjected to while in detention.

The Canadian Press first published this report on Dec. 19, 2019.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Click here for more political news headlines