White Collar Crime: From cubicle to jail cell.

Facing criminal investigation and/or charges is a terribly stressful experience under any circumstances. This becomes all the more stressful when the allegations are in relation to one’s employment.

This past week, news came from British Columbia that the BC Liberal Party has reappointed Laura Miller as the party’s executive director, just over a year in advance of the next provincial election. (http://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2016/03/17/bc-liberal-party-reinstates-woman-charged-in-ontario-gas-plant-scandal.html)

Ms. Miller, formerly Dalton McGuinty’s deputy chief of staff during his time as premier of Ontario, currently faces three charges (breach of trust, mischief, and misuse of a computer system to commit mischief) stemming from an investigation into the Liberal government’s gas plant cancellation scandal. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/laura-miller-bc-liberals-1.3496564 and http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/gasplantscandal.html)

Along with David Livingston, Mr. McGuinty’s former chief of staff, Ms. Miller is alleged to have been involved in the deletion of government documents relating to the cancellation of power plants in both Oakville and Mississauga.

In the midst of Mr. McGuinty’s political demise, Ms. Miller left Ontario in early 2013, heading to BC, where she soon became the executive director of the BC Liberal Party. She continued in that role for over two years before resigning in December 2015 in light of the three criminal charges out of Ontario. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/laura-miller-bc-liberals-facing-charges-resigns-gas-plant-ontartio-1.3361035)

It is an interesting development—to say the least—that Ms. Miller has once again taken up the executive director position with the BC Liberal Party.

Often times, accused individuals—particularly in high profile positions will step down from their positions (either on their own volition or at the request of the organization for which they work), at least until the case has been resolved.

There are a number of reasons for this typical arrangement that bear mentioning.

From the individual’s point of view, even if he or she believes that absolutely nothing improper has been done, the existence of serious (criminal) allegations is undoubtedly a sign of a shattered workplace. From a health and well-being perspective, it may be best to step away from this toxic environment, knowing that to continue in such a role or position would mean inviting constant scrutiny into all aspects of one’s work-related activities. Of course, in Ms. Miller’s case, the job she resigned from and has since returned to is in BC, while the charges are connected to her work in Ontario. However, the “politics industry” is one without borders, particularly in the context of widely available media coverage.

Additionally, depending on the situation, it may be prudent to remove one’s self from a position in order to prevent any allegations of there being a conflict of interest or obstruction of justice.

Of course, there are some potentially significant consequences to resigning in the face of criminal charges as well. Despite a Charter right ensuring everyone the presumption of innocence in the eyes of the law, in the court of public opinion, there is often an automatic assumption that anyone charged with a crime must be guilty of bad conduct. Therefore, in some cases (particularly in politically charged environments), if one is able to tolerate additional stress, it may be best to “soldier on” in a particular role in the face of adversity.

Additionally, as we all know, the criminal justice system tends to move quite slowly. This is not necessarily a negative attribute, as it can allow for further investigation and calm, unemotional consideration of cases. But of course, life simply cannot be put on hold, and those who must work for a living need to be able to continue to earn in order to pay their bills and live their lives.

From an organizational perspective, of course, it is often considered a wise course of action to encourage an individual facing criminal allegations to step down. However, in certain circumstances, an organization may come to the conclusion that the allegations are completely baseless and that the individual will be vindicated in time; in these cases, the person’s skill set may be so unique, valuable, and beneficial that the organization is prepared to bear the short-term negative consequences (primarily in the form of poor public optics) by keeping the individual in his or her position.

Of course, each case is unique; ultimately, the making of career-oriented decisions in response to work related criminal charges is largely dependent on non-legal factors and considerations.

It will certainly be interesting to watch future developments in the gas plant scandal.


About Brandon Trask

Brandon Trask is a regular blog contributor and former colleague of Daniel Murphy and currently a doctoral student at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law. He was formerly a Crown Attorney in Newfoundland and Labrador. Brandon holds law degrees from the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto.