Citizens’ Services Minister Jinny Sims used her ministerial credentials to write visa reference letters for 10 Pakistani citizens, three of whom ended up on a U.S. security watch list, according to allegations by a former constituency assistant.
Sims admitted writing the letters, saying she used to do so all the time as an MP. She said she withdrew her endorsements after Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag’s office told her about security concerns.
“As an MP, I used to write these letters,” she told reporters. “As an MLA, all I’m saying [is] I know the people who are sponsoring them, and in this case I knew some of the people who were coming. And as soon as the MP told me what some of the issues were, I let them know I no longer was interested in pursuing that.”
She said the letters’ reference to her ministerial office, which added the clout of the B.C. government to the endorsements, “was done by error in the office.”
Liberal MLA Mike de Jong told the legislature that a March 4 email from Sims’ former constituency assistant to the conflict-of-interest commissioner and officials in the premier’s office also contained allegations “that the same minister was attempting to facilitate entry into Canada of foreign nationals who were on a security watch in exchange for money.”
Sims denied any money was donated to her election campaign by the individuals.
“The question is, what steps did government take to investigate these serious allegations that they were aware of over two months ago?” de Jong asked.
Attorney General David Eby said the concerns should be forwarded to the independent information and privacy commissioner. That office confirmed Tuesday it is reviewing a letter of complaint.
The email was written by a former staffer, Kate Gillie, who worked in Sims’ Surrey-Panorama constituency office from Jan. 8 to Feb. 22, when she was fired. It was made public on Tuesday by the Liberals.
In the email, she alleged that on Feb. 6, Sims’s fundraising co-ordinator, Rabina Sattar, asked her to check on the visa applications that Sims had vouched for.
“They pertained to 10 Pakistani individuals that Jinny had written supporting their application for a Canadian visa in October & December. Rabina explained that the lead of the group was Noor Ahmed Ranjha. According to Rabina, this individual was her ‘brother’ and extremely important to Jinny as not only ‘are they going to give $10,000 to her campaign but they are coming to discuss a big investment with her.’ ”
“I wrote a letter but no money was ever discussed,” Sims said. She later added to reporters: “Absolutely, I have taken no money.”
Liberal MLA Jas Johal said the allegation “speaks to conduct unacceptable for a minister of the Crown.
“One had to wonder if Ms. Sims can continue to serve as a minister,” he said. “Premier Horgan’s office was informed of these incredibly serious allegations two months ago by the whistleblower, and nothing was done. I find that shocking. It is important these allegations be taken seriously, and investigated as soon as possible.”
The visa application letters contain Sims’s home address and say the people being sponsored would be tourists in Canada and would have medical insurance. “They have the necessary means to cover all necessities including boarding, lodging, and all other requirements,” Sims wrote in her letter. “I ask these visas be expedited and I take full responsibility for their return to Pakistan. … I hold employment as the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Surrey-Panorama and the Minister of Citizens’ Services for British Columbia.”
The whistleblower email from Gillie also accused Sims of helping a person with a development concern who was being sued by the City of Surrey. Sims said that accusation was not true and she merely directs people to the right contact at Surrey city hall.
Gillie was fired from the job as constituency assistant within six weeks for what she admitted was disrespectful behaviour.
Sims said the concerns Gillie outlined were raised in the premier’s office and within NDP caucus by the caucus executive director, Roseanne Moran, in March.
“I had a meeting with the executive director and we went through everything that was in that letter,” said Sims.
Gillie referred questions to her lawyer, Don Sorochan.
Sorochan objected to Sims saying in question period that she could not discuss the issue because it was an “HR matter.”
“This is a principled woman,” Sorochan said. “The minister got up and made it sound like she’d like to respond and this is a personnel matter, with the inference there was more to be said on why my client was fired. There is nothing more to be said.”
Sorochan said Gillie has waived all privilege of confidentiality with respect to her dismissal so the minister could speak freely.
“She got fired because she was disgusted,” said Sorochan, who has served as a special prosecutor on high-profile government cases, including the original Bingogate scandal in Nanaimo. “There’s no other reason for her to be fired, other than her assertion business shouldn’t be carried on the way it was carried on.”