Omertà in Alberta

The Alberta inquiry into queue-jumping in the province's health system appears to have run into a wall of memory loss.
Published on January 11, 2013

One could easily theorize that there is a connection between working in, or coming into contact with, the Alberta health system as  public official, and a sudden and selective loss of memory. If retired judge Justice John Vertes came to that conclusion, no one could blame him.

Mr. Justice John Z. Vertes, Head of the Alberta queue-jumping health inquiry.

As the first week of the second half of the so-called queue-jumping inquiry draws to a close, the most commonly phrases Justice Vertes has heard as head of the inquiry have been “I don’t remember”and “I have no recollection.”

When witnesses have had memory of instances in which an elected official called administrators in the health system to expedite someone’s care, the witness refused to mention names, citing privacy concerns. Vertes did nothing to compel the witness.

What kind of public inquiry lets pertinent information remain hidden, defying the very purpose of holding the hearing in public?

I was told to speak about “what I could recall,” said Fred Horne, the current Alberta Health Minister. Like most other witnesses Mr. Horne seems to have spent no time consulting notes, pondering any moment of past experience or consulting with staff to refresh his memory in preparation to his testimony yesterday.

And yet, it is an inquiry called by the government in which  Mr. Horne is a minister.  Short of declaring such witnesses contemptuous, there is nothing that Justice Vertes can do.

While I am not saying that the Alberta witnesses are involved in a conspiracy of silence, it is ironic that the Charbonneau Commission in Quebec — probing the connections between the construction industry in that province, government officials, and members of organized crime who often live and die by Omertà (their code of silence) –has consistently seen more cooperative witnesses.

PD: Don Braid has noticed the same amnesiac trend at the inquiry in today’s [Saturday, January 12] Herald: ““I can’t recall” has become the mantra of witnesses. In the Health Services Preferential Access Inquiry hearings, the downtown meeting room has become the Hall of Can’t Recall.”


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