Lawyers representing the City of Nanaimo in a wrongful termination lawsuit launched by former chief administrative officer Tracy Samra have argued that the municipality was within its right to fire her because she threatened to kill the mayor, paid nearly $25,000 to a senior manager, and misappropriated city funds — among other things.
Samra, who also goes by the name Tracy Fleck, had been the City of Nanaimo’s chief administrative officer until she was fired in May 2018 following a months-long suspension that stemmed from an incident that took place in late January of that year.
Three years later, in 2021, she launched a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city, claiming she was fired without cause even though she “faithfully and capably performed her duties” while being “repeatedly bullied and harassed” throughout her time of employment. She also argued that her firing was “malicious, oppressive and high-handed and a marked departure from ordinary standards of decent behaviour.”
However, according to the City of Nanaimo’s official response to the lawsuit, which was recently filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the municipality specifically fired Samra with cause after an internal investigation revealed she approved thousands of dollars of personal purchases ranging from vehicle repairs to vacations made by then chief financial officer, Victor Mema, with a city-issued credit card and that she also paid him $23,882 without authorization.
She was also fired because she either disciplined or tried to discipline employees who reported Mema’s misuse of city money, and exceeded the authorized amount for personal legal services, court documents allege.
Samra’s misconduct “resulted in a fundamental breakdown in the City’s trust and confidence in [Samra] and was incompatible with continued employment with the City,” reads the municipality’s response, which also stated that they had “just cause” to fire her.
Samra was hired by the city on an interim basis in November 2015 and was officially named to the position of chief administrative officer in March 2016, becoming the first female and Indigenous person to hold such a role with the city.
According to the city’s response, throughout Samra’s entire employment, she was incompetent, willfully disobedient, engaged in repeated misconduct and insubordination, violated various policies and agreements, and made threats against various individuals including the mayor during her time of employment.
As evidence of her incompetence and misconduct, the city claims that Samra not only signed off personal expenses made by one of her employees but that she used a city-purchase card to make personal purchases herself and instructed a city employee in charge of handling Freedom of Information requests not to “disclose information harmful” to her that included “forwarding city credit card records” to OIPC.
The city’s response also accuses Samra of pressuring the director of human resources, John Van Horne, to pay out money to Mema so he could repay the city — which he eventually did — and that she interfered with work conducted by a city employee responsible for handling freedom of information requests, threatening her employment when she was trying to do her job.
The Jan. 31, 2018 incident
Samra’s termination — a decision reached by city council — came a few months after she was arrested by RCMP for allegedly making threats at or near Nanaimo city hall during an alleged incident on Jan. 31, 2018.
Few details about what exactly happened have been released to the public.
But in the response to the civil claim, lawyers for the city allege that on or around the time of Jan. 31, 2018, Samra received an e-mail from McKay informing her that the RCMP was about to launch an investigation into “a number of matters, including the use of city credit cards” by her and Mema.
Samra, the city’s response claims, began making threatening statements about the mayor to multiple city employees that included her saying she would “burn down McKay’s office and then burn his house down.”
It also claims Samra wanted access to McKay’s computer, became engaged in “violent and aggressive comments” towards staff members and that her behaviour later became the subject of a complaint under the municipality’s respectful work policy.
As a result, Samra was arrested and charged with uttering threats and was the subject of a peace bond application that prohibited her from attending certain locations, the court documents allege. That peace bond was later dropped after a special prosecutor deemed it was no longer in the public’s interest.
After Samra was fired, the City of Nanaimo released financial records that it said showed the CAO made thousands of dollars in personal expenses using a city-issued credit card, including a $153 purchase at The Clinic for Cats. Mema was fired shortly after Samra’s departure.
City rejects Samra’s allegations of bullying
Samra’s lawsuit against the City of Nanaimo also names then-Nanaimo mayor Bill McKay and current city councillor Sheryl Armstrong, claiming that they “repeatedly bullied and harassed” throughout her employment.
The former CAO claimed that McKay frequently belittled her and unsubstantiated statements about her that included her taking a bribe, engaging in criminal conduct and withholding exculpatory evidence from an RCMP investigation into allegations of fraud.
Samra’s lawsuit also alleges Armstrong accused her of committing fraud and allegedly made “several threats” against her at in-camera meetings and accused the municipality of doing nothing to “stop the mistreatment” towards her. She also claimed Armstrong, a former RCMP officer, called the Nanaimo RCMP detachment and demanded she be arrested for allegedly uttering threats.
In its response, the City of Nanaimo rejected the claim that McKay or Armstrong bullied Samra or that either of them “engaged in a course of conduct of false allegations of fraud, misuse of public monies or attacks” against her. The city also denies McKay or Armstrong engaged in “intentional infliction of mental suffering” or “flagrant or outrageous conduct” towards Samra and they reject Samra’s claims that she suffered any loss or damage
“The defendants deny that [Samra] has suffered any mental distress, or any compensable loss or damage arising from the alleged breaches, or any other independent actionable wrong, as alleged,” portion of the city’s response states.
Instead, the city, according to court documents, admitted that McKay said Samra was incompetent and committed misconduct toward members of council and that he was concerned about her potential criminal activity.
When it came to Armstrong, the city denied that she accused Samra of fraud but noted that the councillor did raise concerns about Mema’s city-issued credit card use and asked to see Samra’s credit card statements which she refused to produce, court documents allege. The municipality also denied that Armstrong demanded Samra be arrested but did admit that she did contact “the [Officer in Charge] at the RCMP Detachment and asked that the RCMP contact a city employee and obtain information about [Samra’s] threats to staff.”
“Armstrong denies having any involvement in [Samra’s] arrest but did lay a complaint against her due to threats or perceived threats made against her,” the city’s response states.
Lastly, the city argues that even if Samra has any valid claims in her lawsuit, those claims are statute barred because the limitation for contract claims in this matter expired on May 24, 2021 and her lawsuit wasn’t filed until May 31 of the same year and was served on May 30, 2022.
None of the allegations made in Samra’s lawsuit or the City of Nanaimo’s response have been proven in court.
Samra has also filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal against the city, McKay and Armstrong. A hearing in that matter has been scheduled to begin on Oct. 24.
Mema declined to comment on the matter. Samra, Armstrong, McKay and the City of Nanaimo did not respond to a request for comment prior to deadline.