Alberta Health Services removes man accused in lawsuit of legislature harassment from legal advisory role

·4 min read
Ivan Bernardo's law firm, Miller Thomson, has a long-standing retainer advising the province's health authority, Alberta Health Services (AHS). He had been assigned to that file but was removed from it on Thursday. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
Ivan Bernardo's law firm, Miller Thomson, has a long-standing retainer advising the province's health authority, Alberta Health Services (AHS). He had been assigned to that file but was removed from it on Thursday. (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

Alberta Health Services has removed Ivan Bernardo, the man accused of sexual harassment in the legislature, from his role providing legal services to the organization and its board of directors.

Bernardo has been named in a lawsuit against the office of the premier. The lawsuit alleges that while Bernardo was principal advisor to then-health minister Tyler Shandro in the fall of 2020, he made a sexual comment to a female staff member — and that complaints surrounding his conduct were not dealt with appropriately.

The lawsuit, first reported by CBC News, was filed by Ariella Kimmel, who had worked with Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party government since it won election in spring 2019. Kimmel was working as the chief of staff to the minister of jobs, economy and innovation, Doug Schweitzer, from August 2020 until she was fired in February 2021.

She alleges she was fired for speaking out about the sexual harassment incident and other questionable conduct in the building such as excessive drinking by ministers and staff. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

Bernardo left the legislature in December to return to practising law, for the firm Miller Thomson. Two months later, he joined his firm's team on a long-standing retainer advising the province's health authority, AHS. He is not an AHS employee.

"AHS communicated this morning [Thursday] to Miller Thomson advising that Ivan Bernardo is not authorized to work on any AHS files effective immediately," AHS said in a statement to CBC News.

Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC
Jocelyn Boissonneault/CBC

Health Minister Jason Copping said the AHS board also informed him of their decision on Thursday.

"There are serious allegations that have been put forward," Copping said.

"They've indicated to me that they have asked the firm for which this individual worked for that they be removed from the AHS file while this matter is being addressed."

CBC News has reached out to Bernardo for comment on the details contained in this story. He previously indicated he could not comment on a matter before the courts but said he looked forward to providing testimony about the allegations should he be called upon.

Kimmel's statement of claim says last fall multiple people were made aware of a complaint about Bernardo, in which he was alleged to have told one of Kimmel's staff members: "I haven't seen you on this floor before because with a body like that, I would have noticed you."

The document says insufficient action was taken after that particular complaint was escalated to members of the premier's office, and alleges Bernardo was known to have been inappropriate with other women in the legislature.

Further allegations against Bernardo

Another woman who worked in the building alleges Bernardo was also inappropriate with her and says her complaint was dealt with the way she requested.

"At or around the same time as the allegation contained in the claim, I reported a personal incident of sexual harassment regarding Ivan Bernardo. The premier's office immediately contacted me and handled the matter with compassion and professionalism. At no time did I feel unheard or dismissed. To the contrary, this matter was handled and resolved to my satisfaction," she said.

CBC News has agreed not to use her name because of concerns for professional repercussions and has asked Bernardo for a response to this allegation.

Justice Minister Kaycee Madu was asked about the allegations Friday morning, saying that it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter before the court but that sexual harassment of any form cannot be tolerated.

"I can assure that we are taking this matter very seriously."

Schweitzer was also asked Thursday about what he knew of the allegations.

"I had heard rumblings third- and fourth-hand. By the time I heard about it in the legislature, it was already being looked into through the process and through the premier's office."

Kenney's office has committed to an independent review of its human resources policies for political staff. CBC News has reached out to that office for an updated statement.

"If there's found to be sexual harassment through that review, hopefully there are consequences that come with it," Schweitzer said.

Leela Aheer, his UCP caucus colleague and former status of women minister, is calling for Kenney to resign over the revelations.

And the Opposition NDP have peppered the government in Question Period for two days on the matter.

"There was clearly an obligation for an independent process to be in place where complainants were protected and investigations were conducted by someone external to the premier's office," MLA Janis Irwin said.

"So far, the premier has failed to act."

Kimmel's lawsuit is seeking more than $399,000 for damages and the equivalent of her salary until her contract's end date in May 2023.

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