Three former provincial civil servants who sent allegations of bribery and fraud involving P.E.I.’s Provincial Nominee Program to Ottawa spoke out Friday.
Cora Plourd, Susan Holmes and Svetlana Tenetko held a news conference Friday morning to address statements made by Premier Robert Ghiz Thursday in which he called their allegations ‘crazy.’
They each took a turn in front of reporters’ microphones to defend themselves against what they believe have been personal attacks made against them by the premier and the Liberal party.
“As a registered psychotherapist, I take umbrage with the premier, Ghiz, using the word callously ‘crazy’ to describe information provided by the three of us,” Holmes said.
“I feel it was an intentional attempt to undermine Ms. Tenetko in particular’s deposition, and it takes us down a path, as he described, of dirty politics.”
On Wednesday, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration called in the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency to investigate allegations it received regarding the controversial P.E.I. PNP from Plourd, Holmes and Tenetko.
The three sent statements of testimony to the feds, alleging bribery, elicit activity and outright fraud by numerous senior government officials, bureaucrats and directors of the nominee program.
Allegations of scandal and wrongdoing have swirled around this program for the past three years, mainly thriving in the realm of coffee shop rumours.
P.E.I.’s auditor general investigated the PNP in 2009 and did raise concerns about the way the program was run - especially where he found rules were broken or sidestepped by program administrators and senior officials.
But this is the first time government employees who worked on PNP files have come forward and publicly told their stories. It is also the first time criminal activity has been alleged by anyone directly involved in the nominee program’s administration.
Tenetko worked directly on immigrant applications. She was one of a group of employees who travelled to Hong Kong in the summer of 2007 to process nominee files for the province.
Tenetko told reporters Friday she saw envelopes and rolled wads of cash being given to senior PNP directors by Chinese applicants during this trip. These same people would then be approved for the program, which ultimately granted them a Canadian Visa.
“I saw white envelopes. I saw cash covered with elastic. I did not take pictures but I saw what I saw,” Tenetko said.
She said she has nothing but her word to go on, but despite them being called ‘crazy’ by the premier, she stands by her claims.
“I can swear on the bible. What else do you want me to tell you?”
Plourd, like Tenetko, was also a PNP program officer. She made sure to clarify she submitted her own separate testimony to the federal government and was not claiming criminal wrongdoing. But she does claim PNP rules were blatantly broken.
She told reporters she was directed by PNP managers and directors to approve immigrant files that did not meet provincial requirements of the program. She also alleges files she didn’t approve were signed off on by senior program managers.
She would not name the senior staff she is accusing.
“I would write on mine that it was under duress or against my better judgment that I’m being asked to change this to a nominated file,” Plourd said.
“These files were not good files. They were very suspect. And we denied them for a reason.”
Plourd admitted the timing of the release of the information was indeed timed to coincide with the provincial election. But she said this wasn’t to help anyone gain or lose political points.
They believed releasing their information during the election would be the only way to gain national attention to this issue, Plourd said.
“We knew if we came out now, we would get this issue out there.”
She added that her and Tenetko have been trying for the past three years to get their stories out.
“This didn’t just start this week. That is what the Ghiz government is trying to say. That we’re doing this for political reasons. It isn’t. For three years we’ve been trying to get this forward, and it’s gone nowhere,” she said.