The Alberta Engineers’ Ruling
September 8th, 2019
On March 27, 2019, we filed a request for investigation with the Association of Professional Engineers of Alberta (APEGA). Specifically, we had by then amassed quite a mound of evidence that a number of APEGA members were paying money to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) in trade for influence over domestic legislation. Bribes, in other words.
In June we reported our filing with the Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO), noting that this filing was one of two requests for investigation that CSA already knew about. The APEGA filing was the other one. The additional filings are international and, we’re told, CSA still doesn’t know who they all went to.
The PEO investigation is active but docile. We predicted that PEO would “go through the motions of investigation, as slowly as possible, with the intent of whitewashing the whole thing”. Well, they’ve got the slowly as possible part sorted, and we expect the whitewashing is well underway. They’re proving us right, these PEO people.
Unlike PEO, the folks at APEGA move quickly. The APEGA Decision? “The Investigation has been terminated.”
How so? Well, that’s where it gets interesting (and a bit depressing).
APEGA acknowledged our March filing by letter on May 7th. It was a whirlwind of intentional misinterpretation. For instance;
“The CSA is not a member of APEGA; and [it] is not subject to APEGA’s disciplinary jurisdiction. Any allegations respecting the CSA’s conduct are outside of APEGA’s purview and cannot be pursued.”
Our filing concerned APEGA members’ conduct toward CSA, not CSA’s conduct toward APEGA members. This wasn’t a nuance, it was swearwords obvious. The names of the members were listed in our appendices, with their APEGA ID numbers and dates of membership. The amounts they paid in trade for votes on legislation were verifiable in full colour screen captures of transaction sheets. I mean, there’s trying to misunderstand, and there’s looking like you’ve had a brain injury.
But it got worse:
“The authorities we have reviewed indicate that the CSA is engaged in lawful activities.”
Which authorities do you suppose they reviewed? Well, for context, much of their May 7th letter reads like a CSA court filing, crammed with bumf about how terrific CSA is. Perhaps its not so much a mystery as APEGA hoped when they concealed the authorities they’d consulted on the matter.
Then the biggie:
“The information you have provided does not contain any evidence supporting your contention that APEGA members have engaged in unskilled practices or unprofessional conduct. Speculation and opinion are not sufficient to ground a complaint of professional misconduct.”
Again, we didn’t just write a note of complaint. We sent APEGA a full evidence binder to them. We didn’t just throw it together, this took a lot of work. The original submission can be viewed at the bottom of this May 20th article, (minus appendices, evidence slides, etc.). And if you want an idea of scale, this is a pic of our PEO filing (below).
A quick evidence example: We included a copy of an original CSA advertisement offering “voting privileges” in trade for “$2,000 - $6,000+ Canadian dollars.” Hard to misinterpret that. That same sheet specified the number of votes each level of payment would buy. Got that? Buying votes. That’s not speculation and opinion, the offer was publicly advertised and the acceptance of it by identified APEGA members acknowledged, in writing, by CSA.
Still, APEGA wasn’t keen on seeing what was sent, no matter how bleedingly obvious.
“This will advise that your [request for investigation] will be recommended for immediate termination by the investigative committee […] on June 21, 2019.”
Swell. But we have an insider.
We know a well-placed source on the APEGA committee, and APEGA didn’t know we knew anyone there. We wrote to our source on May 21, noting that “the basic question before APEGA is whether they consider the bribing of engineers, and bribes by govt officials by engineers, to be professional or unprofessional conduct”. Our source was now watching what APEGA did internally. And it wasn’t much.
APEGA withheld the agenda for the June 21 meeting until the last moment, to ensure no review of our documentation, such that within a week of the meeting itself there’d been no information furnished to any committee member. So we pressed our source for updates. What we got back was the sorrowful admission; “The agenda has not been sent out.”
So, the evidence was not really reviewed by the committee, at least not in the traditional sense. A filing this big, reviewed on the fly, at the committee table itself and in the middle of the meeting, hardly constitutes careful review. Yet, the final APEGA report, dated June 26, 2019, terminated the investigation specifically because “there was insufficient evidence [of] unprofessional conduct.”
That final APEGA report also stated, somewhat humorously, that “All information provided by [us] was included in the meeting agenda and was available for review in advance of the Committee meeting.”
Evidently, pardon the pun, they didn’t know about our source.
This sort of conduct tends to undermine the tenets of APEGA’s purported ethos, and fundamentally violates APEGA’s Rules of Conduct. Apparently, professional engineers “shall conduct themselves with integrity, honesty, fairness and objectivity in their professional activities [and] shall uphold and enhance the honour, dignity and reputation of their professions and thus the ability of the professions to serve the public interest.”
It’s hard to put this mildly, but I’ll try. The subject of engineering is almost always tied to public safety. Think; bridges, stadiums and office buildings, transportation. These are the projects APEGA said are bribeworthy. Engineers can pay for a few votes to change safety standards to thicken the margins of some construction project. Companies can bribe engineers to cut a few corners. It’s tough putting this sort of thing mildly. Civil societies are supposed to be above this kind of conduct.
One final note. Some readers will wonder why APEGA and PEO are acting like this. It’s worth noting that both are regulatory authorities governing the engineering profession, they handle disciplinary matters themselves. That is, they self-regulate. That’s the problem, because punishing their own paying members is a conflict of interest.
Imagine buying a car at a dealership. Would you trust Buddyboy the car salesman to negotiate with Barryman, his manager, over how much you’ll pay for the car? Most people wouldn’t entrust that negotiation to Buddyboy, because Buddyboy gets his salary from Barryman, so their interests are aligned against the customer.
Well, each time APEGA suspends the license of an APEGA member, APEGA’s income goes down by one expensive license fee. And we filed against eighteen license holders.
Remember our complaint with the Law Society of Ontario? Recall how that was handled almost identically? Seeing a pattern here?
These are the conflicts of interest in self-regulation. The results are pretty consistent.