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Abduction case won't trigger probe of B.C. hiring

Dec 06 2011

The B.C. government says it has no plans to launch an investigation into its hiring practices after it employed a Victoria woman for almost seven years who used a false identity.

Patricia Joan O'Byrne obtained a job as a government public affairs officer in 2004 under the name Pamela Whelan, a position she held until she was let go during a government restructuring in May 2011.

It appears B.C. officials had virtually no knowledge of her dual identities until this month, when Victoria police arrested O'Byrne on allegations related to an 18-year-old parental abduction case in Toronto.

The provincial government made significant changes to its screening, security and criminal record check processes in 2010, and is confident those rules would prevent another case like this from occurring, said Margaret MacDiarmid, minister of Labour, Citizens' Services and Open Government.

"There's no question it's extraordinary," MacDiarmid said of O'Bryne's case, which she would not comment on specifically because of ongoing court proceedings in Ontario.

"This could not happen today because in November of 2010, the public service agency here in B.C. changed so that there is a screening and criminal record check process for all new staff and all employees who are changing positions.

"I believe that those things would preclude what has happened [from] happening."

MacDiarmid said her ministry is open to making changes if concerns are identified.

O'Byrne was hired through an order in council, which essentially lets the government appoint (and fire) people by cabinet decree.

Most communication jobs have been filled this way under the Liberal government. It's a different process than regular civil servants are put through to obtain full-time, union-protected employment.

Both methods are covered by the new security protocols, which make criminal record checks mandatory every five years and boost additional financial and background screening (including fingerprinting) in certain jobs.

Employees subject to security reviews must provide two pieces of identification. In addition, new hires must provide a valid social insurance number. References are checked as part of a work-history assessment. But no security process can take into account every possibility, MacDiarmid said.

The 2010 changes were the result of an unrelated scandal involving another government employee allegedly hired under a fake name to avoid disclosing a criminal record.

That former employee, Richard Wainwright, is charged with forging a criminal record check and defrauding the government by obtaining his job.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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