Thursday, February 18, 1999

Social service contract still valid despite sex case: bureaucrat

VANCOUVER (CP) --A senior bureaucrat testifying in a bizarre case of alleged sexual extortion said Thursday he didn't know whether any assessments were done of the counsellor accused in the case.

But Ray Wargo, a former district supervisor for the Ministry of Children and Families, disagreed with suggestions that the government does a poor job of monitoring staff working for agencies under ministry contract.

Wargo was on the witness stand to defend the ministry against allegations that it should be held liable for hiring the agency that employed family counsellor Shirley Irwin.

Irwin is accused of demanding sex in return for giving a father access to his son. At the time, Irwin was supposed to be teaching the child's mother how to become a better parent.

The mother, Kari Johnson, has filed a lawsuit seeking damages.

Her lawyer, Richard Brooks, quoted from the 1995 Gove inquiry into B.C.'s child protection services which strongly condemned the government for not monitoring contract staff.

"I see this as a report that's a general commentary," said Wargo, currently a contract superviser for the ministry.

"Gove may have commented on the general picture, but I don't believe that applies to all types of contractors.

"I don't see this as a generalized issue throughout the province."

Johnson was 17 when her son was born in 1993. Her relationship with the boy's father, Mark Tisdall, ended soon after.

In 1994, Irwin was assigned to help Johnson improve her parenting skills, especially after the Crown apprehended her son.

Johnson and Tisdall have filed civil suits over allegations that Irwin engaged in an improper relationship.

Irwin has denied the claims, but is not attending court. She has said she cannot afford to travel to Vancouver from her Manitoba home.

Irwin has had a default judgment issued against her, but the trial will proceed to consider liability of the other parties named in the suit.

Also Thursday, Wargo indicated that the ministry has lost seven months of notes covering Johnson's case.

The notes were contained in a file that has disappeared. But the notes do not appear to cover key time periods of the matter.

Wargo was told that a member of another counselling agency called Project Parent told one of Wargo's staff that she had "issues" to sort out about Irwin.

The issues, which were not detailed in court, were raised in October 1994.

Wargo said he was preparing for a vacation at the time and had delegated the matter to another member of his staff.

He said he would have wanted more details about the "issues" had he been aware they existed.

Copyright 1999, Canoe Limited Partnership.