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Union files grievance after London hospital fires technician charged with sex assault of patient

The London Free Press with Muneeza Sheikh 23 June 2018

A major public service union is grieving the firing by a London hospital of a technician charged by police with drugging and sexually assaulting a patient.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) filed the grievance after the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) suspended, then fired, 24-year-old Vincent Gauthier, the criminal charges rare enough that hospital officials and police held a joint news conference to encourage anyone else with concerns to come forward.

“A grievance was filed by OPSEU,” a hospital spokesperson told The Free Press Friday.

The filing of the grievance raises serious questions about whether public-sector unions have learned anything from the public inquiry into the murder spree by former longterm care nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer, who was able to extend her career not once but twice after firings were swept under the rug after her union intervened.

ONA reps keep saying: I didn’t know . . . It’s deplorable.

Muneeza Sheikh

That inquiry should serve as a wake-up call for unions that are so trigger-happy about filing grievances that some file first, and only investigate, if at all, later, said Muneeza Sheikh, a labour and employment lawyer with Levitt LLP in Toronto.

“I hope unions will do fact-finding first,” she said.

Wettlaufer was convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder involving residents of two Southwestern Ontario nursing homes, trying to kill four others and injuring two more.

At the provincial inquiry into the Wettlaufer case, officials for the Ontario Nurses’ Association (ONA) have testified about how little they knew of her transgressions that included medication errors, laziness, bizarre conduct, a lack of competence and ongoing challenges with substance abuse and mental illness.

“ONA reps keep saying: I didn’t know,” Sheikh said. “It’s deplorable.”

While unions have a responsibility to serve their members, they also have a duty to the public, and that’s most true when they work in health care, she said.

“That’s where we see a disconnect. (Too many unions) have a laser focus on members alone,” she said. “I worked as in-house counsel (for a union) and many unions do operate this way.”

None of the criminal charges against Gauthier has been proven in court.

The head of OPSEU defending the filing of the grievance. “All employees in Ontario have a legal right to file grievances concerning discipline or alleged breaches of their collective agreement, and there are tight timelines within which to do so. Trade unions have a statutory responsibility to fairly represent members in respect of their grievances,” OPSEU President Smokey Thomas wrote in an email to The Free Press.

“We are somewhat surprised and disappointed that LHSC now seems to suggest otherwise, or would discount their employees legal right to due process and the presumption of innocence. Typically the criminal charges would proceed before the courts, and only then, if legal issues remain, would grievance arbitration be necessary. As these matters are before the courts it is not appropriate for OPSEU to offer further comment,” Thomas wrote.

At LHSC, one of Ontario’s largest hospitals, officials cited the grievance and an ongoing internal investigation as reasons not to answer questions about the safeguards the hospital has to prevent the misappropriation of sedatives and other medications.

Gauthier wasn’t authorized to administer medication because he worked as a technician who hooked up patients to a machine that scans the electrical activity in the brain to find signs of abnormalities or seizure, a process known as an EEG.

Police and hospital officials have refused to make public a photo of Gauthier, the hospital instead sending letters to more than 800 patients who had EEGs in which he was the technician.

Gauthier was released on $10,000 bail with no deposit June 2, three days before LHSC and police announced he’d been charged with sexual assault and overcoming resistance by administering or attempting to administer a drug.

Gauthier declined to comment last week when reached by The Free Press at his London apartment.