Travill vindicated

Mike Travill was wrongfully dismissed as Yukon's workers' advocate, a federal labour adjudicator has concluded. Travill was unceremoniously dumped by the territory two and a half years ago.

Mike Travill was wrongfully dismissed as Yukon’s workers’ advocate, a federal labour adjudicator has concluded.

Travill was unceremoniously dumped by the territory two and a half years ago. The firing was based on allegations he had padded the hours he reported working.

But the adjudicator found scant evidence to support this. She has ordered the territory to pay Travill $165,000.

Having the proceedings finally wrap up several weeks ago came as a relief to the 51-year-old Whitehorse resident, who describes the settlement as “fair.”

He won’t get his old job back. The adjudicator determined there was enough bad blood between Travill and territorial officials that having him return would be a recipe for future acrimony.

Travill is something of an expert in wrongful dismissals. He spent a decade helping workers fight them.

This did nothing to endear him to the territorial government’s bosses, he suspects. Nor did his dabbling in territorial politics – first with the NDP and later with the Liberals – help shore-up trust among the Yukon Party government.

While an end to legal wrangling is welcomed by Travill, “there really isn’t any satisfaction” from the conclusion, because the parties responsible for his dismissal won’t be the ones paying out of pocket his damages owed. Instead, it will be taxpayers.

The ordeal hasn’t been easy for Travill. Senior government officials essentially accused him of being a lazy cheat.

The lazy part especially stung. Travill is, by many accounts, a workaholic.

That is, at least in part, what got him in trouble. In 2002, he accepted an appointment to a panel reviewing the workers’ compensation act.

At the time, he insists he received an assurance from Peter Jenkins, then minister responsible, that he could continue to serve as workers’ advocate, provided his work did not suffer.

Travill ended up working many early mornings and late nights as advocate. He logged his hours in a diary.

For five years the territory accepted this arrangement without scrutiny. Travill was never given an annual evaluation or asked for additional information during that time.

Then, in 2007, Yukon’s Public Service Commission demanded Travill produce proof of the hours he worked. It wouldn’t accept his diary, because its entries could easily have been fabricated.

In October of that year, Travill was suspended without pay for double dipping. Robert Riches, assistant deputy minister for Justice, wrote a letter to Travill at the time, stating such behavior “breaches your duty of faithfulness and honesty to your employer, and irrevocably violates the trust inherent in the employment relationship.”

Travill offered to dig up e-mails sent for work to corroborate his logged hours. But he found himself locked out of the government computer system.

An internal review resulted in Travill being fired. But the labour board hearing would eventually validate Travill’s tale.

A number of witnesses confirmed that Travill could be found at his office late at night. The government, meanwhile, was unable to prove Travill had misreported his hours.

Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell has long suggested Travill was sacked because of his role as the Liberals’ campaign manager during the 2006 election. He repeated these accusations last week, when he blamed “prodding from the corner office” on Travill’s dismissal.

The remark prompted a tongue-lashing from Speaker Ted Staffen who deemed the comment out of order. Premier Dennis Fentie brushed off this assertion as “absurd.”

Justice Minister Marian Horne also denied Travill was dismissed for political reasons.

“I have nothing to do with the hiring and firing of employees,” she said on May 3.

But Travill’s old job remains a political appointment. And the Justice minister decides who holds it, according to law.

However, Horne insisted the responsibilities of hiring and firing the workers’ advocate is delegated to her senior staff.

Elaine Taylor, minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, echoed this the following day.

“The position of workers’ advocate is staffed through the regulation hiring process,” she said.

Travill shares Mitchell’s suspicions, but he acknowledges there’s no smoking gun that links his political activities to his dismissal.

Still, “I find it difficult to believe that the politicians didn’t have any influence over this,” he said.

Travill credits Laurie Butterworth, president of the Yukon Employees’ Union, for providing support during his protracted dismissal fight. He worries his successors won’t enjoy any similar backup.

That’s because the position is now held by a nonunionized manager. Travill sees this arrangement as a conflict of interest waiting to happen.

If a prison guard were to complain about ill treatment, this could result in the workers’ advocate, who is himself Justice Department manager, fighting his own department in court.

Travill was nearly crushed to death in an Alberta steel mill in the 1980s. The accident left him with a bum leg, post-traumatic stress disorder and a galvanized belief in the importance of workers’ rights.

He went on to hold a number of union desk jobs that set him on a path that led to his decade-long stint as Yukon’s workers’ advocate.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.