We reported earlier this year about The perils of bad governance in the case of the Toronto Humane Society. The non-profit organization faced a raid and subsequent investigation after complaints of serious mistreatment of animals, overcrowding, rampant illness and disease, disgusting workplace conditions and generally poor management. The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals removed animals from the premises, confiscated documents, arrested the president and senior management and charged them with animal cruelty and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence, and discharged the board of directors and charged them with “non-criminal” animal cruelty.
That story outlined the potential and significant damage of poor governance practices: legal challenges and charges; fines; dismantling of boards; loss of goodwill, business, sales and staff; and so on.
But the newest development in the case is that the Crown has dropped all of the charges the OSPCA initially made against the humane society’s president and management. The Crown’s attorney argued that the society executed its raid and investigation in a way that “breached the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ protection against unreasonable search and seizure.” As a result, the court would be unlikely to admit any of the extensive evidence that the society had obtained.
So this has turned into a story about the perils of bad investigations and a warning about facing a government or regulatory investigation.
When conducting an investigation into a breach of policy, it is imperative that you follow your own investigation policy in a fair and consistent manner, and that your investigations policy comply with all relevant legislation or regulations. In particular, this means respecting employees’ privacy and human rights—avoiding the collection and disclosure of information outside the scope of the investigation and treating all current and former employees in a respectful and non-discriminatory way.
The principles of privacy and non-discrimination also apply if you face an official investigation, but in this case, employers will want to focus on limiting an organization’s exposure—for example, by involving legal counsel and only offering investigators the information they are legally entitled to, but also respecting the investigators and complying with orders.
First Reference Human Resources and Internal Controls Compliance Editor
Finance & Accounting PolicyPro from First Reference discusses investigations in a number of contexts, and includes a Search checklist to help protect your business when you face an investigation.