Former chief coroner Padma Suramala – who filed a $1 million lawsuit in June for wrongful dismissal – was fired for financial and employment irregularities, and passing off a false court order, according to the Government of Nunavut in its statement of defence.
The Department of Justice sent the document to Nunavut News, stating it was filed Oct. 19 in the Nunavut Court of Justice. None of the claims have been tested in court.
“Ms. Suramala was terminated by the GN on April 25, 2018 as a result of evidence which implicated her in various financial irregularities uncovered at the YWCA Agvvik and as a result of her deliberate, premeditated and wanton disregard for the laws of the Territory of Nunavut,” the statement of defence reads.
The GN’s story of Suramala’s dismissal merges with the discovery in 2017 that saw YWCA Agvvik fire its executive director in the aftermath of a GN audit. That audit took place after a September 2016 audit by accounting firm Lester Landau was leaked to the GN, the RCMP and news venues.
Six people, including Suramala, were identified by the GN’s senior auditor as having received consulting fee payments from Agvvik, even as they were listed as employees, according to the statement of defence.
“In reviewing the YWCA’s accounting records, it became apparent to (senior auditor) Ms. Demalo that Ms. Suramala was receiving payments from the YWCA both in the form of the consulting fee payments and also as a recurrent employee of the YWCA,” the GN states in the document.
The GN then outlines a confusing array of responses Suramala supplied when questioned by the auditor – after at first denying she had ever provided consulting services – for a girls club and for repayment of a personal debt from a YWCA Agvvik employee.
“Ms. Suramala indicated that the personal debt was accrued in India for alleged dental work received by that employee’s partner and other personal matters. Ms. Suramala has, at different times, provided varying total amounts for the alleged personal debt; however, no amount ever alleged by Ms. Suramala was more than $15,000.00,” states the GN.
The consulting and professional payments total $24,154 between Nov. 1, 2013 and March 31, 2017, according to the document.
“All 13 payments made to Ms. Suramala for consulting or professional fees were paid pursuant to an invoice that was created in Ms. Suramala’s name. All of the instruments used for payment were cashed. Ms. Suramala alleges that she never signed any invoices. Ms. Suramala acknowledges that she received some, if not all, of the payments.”
The GN statement of defence also outlines conflicting information from Suramala to explain amounts and reasons for payments, as well as conflicting stories about her part-time employment with YWCA Agvvik.
A GN employee requires approval for outside work. The document outlines how Suramala said she hadn’t worked at YWCA Agvvik since 2014.
“In the same correspondence (to Justice deputy minister William MacKay), and though not prompted in any way, Ms. Suramala went on to indicate that she did not have ownership in a numbered company that she was alleged by another to own and which, according to her e-mail, received $33,000.00 in consulting fee payments,” states the GN.
MacKay later indicated he had evidence that she been an employee in 2017.
“Contrary to paragraph 50 of the claim, Ms. Suramala failed to properly report her employment with the YWCA. This was contrary to GN policy,” states the GN.
‘Deliberate, premeditated and wanton violation’
Citing a “pattern of dishonest behaviour” the GN states “the foregoing provided a reasonable and probable foundation upon which to conclude that the plaintiff was a knowing participant in fraudulent activity involving the YWCA or was willfully blind to same.”
The GN’s second reason for its firing of Suramala is to do with an ongoing dispute between herself, MacKay and the Department of Health: access to medical records. Suramala also notes this in her statement of claim.
The law required Suramala to obtain a warrant for medical records. In her claim, she stated that on January 30, 2018 she “issued a Coroner’s Authorization, without a concomitant warrant from a Justice of the Peace, to the nurse in charge at the health centre in Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, for the release of a copy of medical information of an individual who had died suddenly in that community.”
Meanwhile, the GN states, “on January 30, 2018, a member of Ms. Suramala’s staff entered Qikiqtani General Hospital with a warrant or document that had been drafted and signed by Ms. Suramala and which was meant to appear as though it was a warrant and seized original medical records. The staff member acted on Ms. Suramala’s instructions.”
Calling it “a flagrant violation of the Nunavut Coroner’s Act” and “a deliberate, premeditated and wanton violation of the laws of the Territory of Nunavut and an otherwise grossly dishonest act,” the GN states “Suramala was suspended immediately after passing-off her self-made document as a court order.”
Michael H. Penner is Suramala’s lawyer.
“Essentially, we raised serious allegations and the GN responded in kind,” he said, adding he hasn’t yet received much of the material the GN’s allegations depend on.
The disclosure process will allow Penner the opportunity to review the allegations and materials.
The GN’s statement of defence denies a variety of claims in Suramala’s suit, such as defamation, interference to her work, intentional infliction of mental distress, among others.
“The Plaintiff’s misconduct was investigated, she was placed on a paid suspension during this time, and she was terminated as a result of her gross misconduct as described above,” states the GN.
“The defendant pleads, and the fact is, that the plaintiff’s claims are wholly without merit on their face; the amounts claimed are remote, exorbitant and manufactured; and that the entirety of the action should be dismissed.”
The GN agreed to a trial in the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit.
Updated Oct. 25, 2018