09/02/2016 12:58 EDT | Updated 09/03/2017 01:12 EDT

Harassment finding against ex-CRTC commissioner nixed due to 'witch hunt'

TORONTO — A former commissioner of Canada's telecommunications and broadcast regulator was treated unfairly by an investigator who found he had harassed a woman, Federal Court ruled Friday.

In a ruling critical of both the investigator and the chairman of the federal agency, Judge Russel Zinn set aside the harassment findings against Raj Shoan.

"In my view, Commissioner Shoan was denied procedural fairness and natural justice," Zinn found.

"The investigation turned into a 'witch hunt' where the investigator looked into essentially every detail and interaction Commissioner Shoan had with CRTC staff to try to find harassment rather than examining the complaints themselves to determine if harassment occurred."

In September 2014, Amanda Cliff, an executive director with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, accused the cabinet appointee of making "repeated insinuations and unfounded accusations" about her to colleagues. The 30-year public service employee said Shoan had tried to bully her, and was trying to destroy her career.

The CRTC called in an outside investigator, Diane Laurin, who found Shoan had humiliated Cliff and his behaviour had been "inappropriate and constituted harassment."

In response, CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais took action that included barring Shoan from any communication with Cliff. Blais also sent Laurin's report to the minister in charge.

Shoan headed to Federal Court, arguing among other things that the investigation was unfair because Laurin was biased and Blais hostile. Zinn agreed.

Laurin made "troubling" comments to witnesses, said Zinn, who cited an affidavit in which Shoan said the agency's vice-chairmen told him the "fix was in," the investigators had already made up their minds, and that they were "unbelievably biased" against him.

"These statements describe the perception of two witnesses," Zinn said. "I can see no motive either would have to fabricate or exaggerate."

Instead of taking the bias allegations seriously, Zinn found, Laurin was dismissive.

The judge also criticized her for destroying her notes, saying an experienced and impartial investigator would have retained them given the possibility of a judicial review.

Zinn also criticized Blais for statements he made to Laurin, among them that Shoan had created a toxic work environment — a topic that was not supposed to be part of the investigation.

"The views of the chairman may be accurate; but they go far beyond what was to be decided," Zinn wrote. "It is impossible to see how, in light of these opinions expressed by the could be said that he, whether consciously or unconsciously, could decide the matter fairly.

Shoan, however, did not escape criticism from Zinn, saying he had a tendency to use "direct and often confrontational" language.

Zinn awarded Shoan $30,000 in costs but decided against ordering another investigation because the government revoked the commissioner's appointment shortly after the judicial review was heard. 

Shoan, appointed to a five-year term as commissioner for Ontario in 2013, and Blais were known to be at loggerheads, and court filings portrayed the CRTC as a dysfunctional workplace.