A deputy minister’s recent exit from federal public service came just weeks after a national Aboriginal organization requested his resignation privately via email, rejecting their characterization of colonialism as a “gross misinterpretation of ‘history'”.
Timothy Sargent’s nearly three-decade career in federal public service – which included representing Canada internationally on business and financial matters – ended without a public explanation in October when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a change of deputy ministers.
The press release named a new undersecretary for fisheries and oceans, but made no mention of Mr. Sargent, who has held the position since the beginning of 2019. These releases generally thank senior officials for their service, whether they retire or leave for someone else. position.
Internal emails and messages obtained by The Globe and Mail through Freedom of Information — along with additional details provided by government officials — reveal his departure following months of behind-the-scenes wrangling over an email he wrote in May 2022.
Government officials told The Globe that Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray was personally involved in the matter, apologizing to recipients of the email and raising the MP’s actions with Janice Charette, Clerk of the Privy Council and Head of Public Service.
The controversy began in May when Mr Sargent received an invitation letter signed by Don Madahbi Leach, president of the National Indigenous Economic Development Council, a small federally funded organization based in Gatineau that advises Ottawa on policy and ministries. assignments.
The letter invited Mr. Sargent to a luncheon hosted by Deloitte Canada to launch a national economic strategy for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The letter stated, “One of the nefarious goals of colonialism is the deliberate exclusion of indigenous peoples from participation in the wealth of our country. This strategy is a path toward comprehensive and meaningful economic reconciliation.”
The email was sent to Mr Sargent by Public Affairs Adviser Isabel Metcalfe on May 30, 2022.
Mr. Sargent responded the next morning with a one-sentence email to Ms. Metcalfe and Mario Iacobashi of Deloitte.
He wrote: “I certainly will not attend an event based on a misreading of history.”
Mrs. Metcalf at once forwarded Mr. Sargent’s reply to Mrs. Madahbi Leach, who had sent an email to Mr. Sargent that evening to express her regret at his attitude.
“In the spirit of reconciliation, I welcome the opportunity to discuss your response with you so that you can attend the event and learn,” she wrote on May 31.
About a month later, Mr. Sargent sent Mrs. Madahi Leach a two-page letter of apology dated June 29.
“I fully acknowledge that my response was inappropriate and demonstrated a lack of awareness and sensitivity to the many challenges and barriers, past and present, that indigenous peoples face in participating fully and equitably in Canadian society and economy,” the letter read. “I would like to repair the damage this has done, both to the reputation of the department but also to the fact that this is exactly the kind of thing that signals systemic racism at the highest levels of government.”
The letter ended with a request for a meeting.
Documents show that Mr. Sargent emailed a copy of the letter to Mrs. Charette, the clerk of the Public Relations Office, as well as to Daniel Cowan-Watson, the Deputy Minister for Crown and Aboriginal Relations, and to Christiane Fox, who was then the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Indigenous services.
Colleague, you will find an attachment attached to a letter I sent earlier today to Ms. Dawn Madahbi Leach in which I expressed my sincere remorse for the language used to respond to the call to launch the National Indigenous Economic Strategy that he wrote in the email, which has been published in a partially redacted form. To thank you for your support over the past few years and also more recently during this time. »
On September 9, the National Council for Indigenous Economic Development (CNIED) sent Mr. Sargent a new letter from Ms. Madahbi Leach, with copies to Mr. Trudeau, Ms. Sharett, and some Federal Ministers, First Nations, and Inuit. Tapiriit Kanatami and the National Mulatto Council.
The letter acknowledged receiving an apology letter from Sargent, but said his initial comments appeared to contradict a 2015 report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, the Royal Commission on Indigenous Peoples, and several Supreme Court rulings. Canada.
“Your response to our appeal was particularly shocking because, as a senior official, you seem to dispute or disbelieve the conclusions of these vital and essential documents. The audacity with which you confidently and openly share your thoughts that we are doing a “flagrant distortion of history” is a prime example of systemic racism at the highest level, I wrote to the government.
According to the letter, the sincerity of his apology letter was “significantly diminished” by the fact that it was only received after the email was reported to his superiors. She said that after careful consideration and after receiving feedback from various Indigenous leaders, NIEDB “firmly believes that a senior official who shares the views I have expressed should not serve in any capacity in the Federal Public Service or in any other government entity. Or entity continued.
Mr. Sargent declined to comment on the matter when contacted Thursday at the Center for the Study of Living Standards, where he now works as deputy executive director. He is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation.
Before heading the Department of Fisheries, he served as Undersecretary for International Trade during the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement negotiations. He was also the CFO responsible for the G7 and G20.
In response to questions from The Globe, Geoff Woodland, a spokesperson for the Minister for Fisheries, issued a statement saying Ms Murray was extremely disappointed to learn of the email Sargent had sent.
“The comments were unacceptable and inappropriate,” the statement said, adding that Ms. Murray had raised the matter with the Public Relations Office’s Registrar and had spoken with Ms. Maddahi Leach “to apologize on behalf of the government and management”.
An acting deputy minister took over from Mr Sargent from the end of June 2022, said Stephan Schanck, a spokesperson for the PCO, before a permanent replacement was appointed on 31 October. The Prime Minister’s Office said Mr Sargent had tendered his resignation effective October 12.
“The PCO cannot comment on individual circumstances under the Privacy Act,” Shank said.
In an interview, Ms. Maddahi Leach said that the initial email from Mr. Sargent was disturbing and that he did not accept her invitation to discuss the matter directly. She said she felt Ms. Murray and her office were handling the situation well.
“They were very shocked,” she said. “When they saw something written like this, it was all over.”