Tax agency worker suspended after filing complaint outside ‘chain of command’
As a self-proclaimed “new Canadian”, Jeff Yuan said he felt he had a “duty of service” to his adopted homeland.
That’s why the former Canada Revenue Agency research and technology adviser said he wrote directly to the head of the agency to point out what he saw as a waste of taxpayers’ money caused by “incompetent CRA employees”.
But despite a seemingly encouraging response from then-RCA Commissioner Andrew Treusch, Yuan was suspended twice for insubordination for stepping out of the ARC’s “chain of command.”
“A zeal that has become rebellious”
The Vancouver man’s ordeal is detailed in a decision published this week by the Federal Public Sector Labor Relations and Employment Board – which heard Yuan’s grievance over a pair of two-day suspensions from 2016.
Board member Bryan Gray rejected the first suspension because the commissioner had left Yuan with the impression that his contribution was in fact welcome. But Gray said the second was justified, because at the time Yuan’s direct managers had told him unequivocally that he was violating “established communication protocol”.
“[Yuan] is honorable in his motives to serve his “new country” (as he puts it) with diligence and vigour. He testified from the bottom of his heart to his serious concerns about the mismanagement of the CRA, which he believes has wasted huge sums of taxpayers’ money on projects that do not deserve public support,” Gray wrote.
“However, her passion for excellence in her work led to a zeal that grew rebellious with repeated harsh criticism from her manager suggesting she was incompetent.”
Questionable research and development claims
According to his LinkedIn page, Yuan left the tax agency in October 2017 after nearly 15 years.
The labor board’s decision does not detail the specifics of its concerns, but in its first letter to Treusch, Yuan claimed that the ARC’s scientific research and experimental development program was “fraught with integrity issues.” .
He included a link to a Globe and Mail article titled Flawed R&D Program Costs Taxpayers Billions. The story – by journalist Barrie McKenna – said the program was plagued by a “deluge of dodgy tax claims”.
“The money is often poured into decidedly low-tech, routine manufacturing, like baking gluten-free cakes, making injection-molded auto parts, or growing potted roses,” McKenna wrote.
“Carefully documented and presented as scientific investigation, this type of work is worth millions in government money.”
Yuan said Treusch CRA staff work “very hard to try to improve the integrity of the program”, but that it needs a review by “impartial external R&D experts such as university professors (instead of accountants), who have no personal interest in maintaining the current status quo.”
Treusch responded 10 days later, thanking Yuan for his “kind words” and saying that it was “with the help and suggestions of all employees like you that we were able to accomplish so much”.
“The taxpayer… will always be my first priority”
Despite Treusch’s warm words, in the months that followed Yuan was repeatedly warned to write directly to senior officials.
“Jeff has a habit of writing to the top whenever he gets the chance,” his direct boss wrote in an email to other managers in the months before Yuan was suspended.
“His posts are biased, disrespectful, anti-authority and anti-management.”
Thinking he had an ally in Treusch, Yuan wrote to him in 2016 to say he had been repeatedly told to resolve his complaints “at the lowest level”.
“I am not so much interested in protecting/advance my own interests. The interest of the taxpayer, the integrity and the reputation of this organization are and always will be my first priority. I believe this is also true for every public servant who is proud in their service to this country,” Yuan said in an email.
He wrote in another: “It is very sad that in order to alert the agency to serious potential wrongdoing, an employee must be forced to directly confront their supervisor, the potential wrongdoer.”
Treusch, who was appointed CRA commissioner in 2012, retired from the agency in June 2016.
In the months leading up to his departure, he fervently defended the CRA’s handling of an overseas scandal revealed by CBC reports involving a secret “no-penalty” offer to wealthy tax cheats.
“Clear disregard” of management’s instructions
According to the decision, Yuan claimed that a colleague who was upset by the same issues fell ill and died from a stress-related illness. He also pointed to internal office emails “in which he and his colleagues were critical of office decisions and client projects.”
The letter explaining Yuan’s suspension says he was punished for writing directly to senior officials “in clear disregard of instructions from local management.”
The letter cites the CRA’s Code of Integrity and Conduct which states that “employee interactions should be professional, courteous and respectful, both with the public and with each other.”
The CRA said it would not be able to comment on the decision until Friday.
Franco Terrazzano, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said his organization intended to follow up on the complaints Yuan had raised in his emails to the former CRA commissioner.
“In general, when a government employee tries to prevent taxpayers’ money from being wasted, they should be treated as a hero, not a villain,” Terrazzano told CBC.
“I think the whole process underscores the need for a culture change in government. There needs to be whistleblower protection for government employees trying to defend taxpayers. And not just welcomed in words. , but welcomed in practice.”