Boreal

Shooting the Messenger

18 - McGahey

McGahey had just closed the door to his office after welcoming me with a crisp handshake outside his office, in front of his secretary, when the air turned blue. One obscenity followed another, “you bastard”, “you son of bitch”, “you fuck’n asshole.”

So much for Ambassador Chrétien’s polite assurances.

It was time to go. I knew it. They knew it.

A number of things had convinced me that it was time to pack it in. It was not just the solitary hours that had stretched into days, then weeks, then months; it was not just the unrelenting harassment.

No, it was not only that.

Richard had gotten very good at his job. Good at a job that I could not do. I had proved it to myself, if not to the Department, during my time on the Washington project.

What I first took as a failing on Richard’s part was actually an asset once Richard filled the void in his knowledge of the environment in which the Department operated.

My way of getting people to co-operate, as demonstrated during my time with the Canada Map Office, was a slow process.

When you have to fly to distant destinations all over the planet and stay in expensive lodgings at the Queen’s expense you don’t have time to indulge in lengthy getting-to-know you sessions before getting things done. You have to be able to demand unquestioning compliance. Richard was not afraid to do that, even if at times it made him look foolish.

For example, it was only Richard’s second or third day on the job when we had the following conversation:

Richard: What are you doing?

Preparing a telex for Addis Ababa.

Richard: You're wasting your time! Get on the phone and tell them what you want them to do!

Richard, do you know where Ethiopia is?

Richard: I don’t care!

A call to Ethiopia would not only be very expensive, it could cause a small panic. A telephone call from Ottawa means an emergency which cannot be dealt with through regular and secure communication channels and this is not an emergency.

Richard: Fine, do what you want.

It was not an auspicious beginning. It was an unfortunate beginning.

I cautioned Gordon not to assume a personality conflict when I met with him to talk about Richard’s plan to install an English-only version of the London High Commission computer system in Paris and Brussels. I told him that my disagreement with Richard was on a matter of principle; that, apart from this fundamental disagreement, I thought that Richard was doing a good job.

Another reason, probably the most significant reason for my thinking it was time to leave, was that as long as Gordon and Dunseath were in charge, I would never be allowed to do the type of work I loved; to do work which involved using cutting edge technology and computers to promote efficiencies and cost savings.

In his report to Massé, Chrétien wrote that Dunseath's all-English programming and development staff no longer wished to work with me since my complaint to the Commissioner of Official Languages.

Chrétien by addressing me in a civilized manner and by providing assurances that my concerns would be looked into meant that I could leave with a clear conscience. All someone had to do was ask me nicely, not try to bully, threaten or intimidate me into quitting. All McGahey had to do was follow the Ambassador's example and their problems and mine would be over.

McGahey was the Director of the Non-Rotational Personnel Division in the Personnel Operations Bureau. I have to assume that he was asked by Chrétien to arrange a transfer for me. McGahey was no Chrétien and told me so as soon as we were behind closed doors.

I was initially taken aback by this Jekyll to Hyde transformation when I was alone with him.

Why was this person shouting at me? Why was this person calling me all these names, inches from my face, after saying how glad he was to see me when we were outside his office in front of his secretary?

Then it occurred to me. McGahey was looking for a violent confrontation and wanted me to throw the first punch. I was being set up. His secretary would undoubtedly testify how gracious McGahey had been when we first met if punches started being thrown.

I didn’t blink, or maybe I was just slow in taking in the situation. Today I wish I had blinked. When someone calls your mother a bitch twice and you don’t deck him, there is something wrong with you.

McGahey made his way around his desk still mumbling that if he had his way he would have thrown a “fucken troublemaker” like me out of his office and out of the Department so fast that … (I don't remember the metaphor he used).

"I was lucky," he said, "that he wasn’t Chrétien. Mr. Chrétien, the kind man that he was,” McGahey continued, “still wanted him to arrange for a quick transfer for a son-of-bitch like me."

I hated bullies. Until my meeting with Chrétien, the despotic, third world intimidation tactics used by the likes of McGahey only served to strengthen my resolve.

I did not care if McGahey’s shower of insults and obscenities was meant to provoke a fight or simply to soften me up for the inevitable transfer. If this was another variation of the diplomat’s good cop bad cop routine, it was wearing thin.

I was looking forward to leaving and putting this sorry mess behind me, even if it meant quitting, but I would not be bullied into doing so.

Did Chrétien put McGahey up to this?

All of a sudden, Chrétien’s courteous assurances seemed like so much diplomatic claptrap. If he had put McGahey up to this, then Chrétien was not going to get away with it. “Chrétien wants me to take a transfer,” I yelled at him,” I will, but only to the Internal Audit Division,” and walked out and returned to my little beige cell to wait for the Department’s next move.

I would not have long to wait.

Was I that naïve? Chrétien would have had to be out of his mind, and he did not come across as a stupid man, to invite me into a Bureau whose mandate included investigating administrative shortcomings and lapses in judgement and ethics. Not that I could not keep a secret.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), shortly after my confinement was asked to investigate if I could be declared a security risk. If the RCMP found me a threat to national security losing my job would be the least of my worries. I could be charged with a criminal offence under the Official Secrets Act. If found guilty during normally secret court proceedings permitted under the Act, I faced serious jail time.

I got wind of this investigation from Wendy (you will get to meet her shortly) who said the police were asking questions about me. I kept my top secret security clearance. I was not a security risk. That should have been obvious.

The fact that Foreign Affairs tried to have me declared a security risk for getting in touch with the Commissioner of Official Languages is disturbing, to say the least.

The transfer, as could have been expected, never materialized. A few days later the Department made any escape from my little beige cell impossible; even quitting would no longer be an option.