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Former employee to keep pushing investigation on health centre.

CALGARY

A former employee who blew the whistle on allegations of financial mismanagement at a virtual health centre is continuing his fight, despite an investigation that found no wrong doing.

The First Nations EpiCentre, which was created in 2007, conducts epidemiology analysis and has received up to $5 million from Health Canada.

Steve Villebrun, a geographic information system's consultant, worked with mapping software to establish location of diseases. He also mapped factors such as poor water quality that were contributing to illness in Aboriginal communities.

Villebrun said he was concerned that all staff at the EpiCentre was contracted out by a company called Okaki, which was owned by EpiCentre's director Dr. Salim Samanani.

Villebrun said this meant funds from Health Canada were flowing directly to Samanani's company.

Villebrun said Samanani was originally a Health Canada employee but he left his position to become director of the EpiCentre.

"It makes me very angry," said Villebrun. "It's a big responsibility as a public servant to be cautious of the fact you are spending people's money."

Health Canada conducted an investigation in September 2010 and found no wrong doing under the Public Servants Disclosure Act.

However, Villebrun is still not content.

He became even more concerned after photos surfaced of an EpiCentre staff meeting in Hawaii.

In an interview with CBC, Samanani said the meeting was held in Hawaii because one board member lives there and the meeting space was available free of charge.

Villebrun said the meeting location was inappropriate.

"I think it hurts Aboriginal people. I am Aboriginal myself and I had a real problem with it. Dr. Samanani is not First Nations and it just appears that they are taking advantage of the system and it affects the quality of life and health and safety of First Nations people," said Villebrun.

In a letter to Herman Wierenga, regional director of First Nations and Inuit Health Alberta in 2008, Chief Clifford Poucette of the Wesley First Nation asked Health Canada to address concerns raised by First Nations chiefs.

However, Poucette did not want to comment on the current investigation findings because he is no longer chief.

Chief Fred Rabbit Carrier of the Siksika Nation said he is satisfied with the investigation that found no wrong doing.

"If other chiefs wish to call for further investigation, that is their prerogative," he said.

Rabbit Carrier said the allegations of mismanagement became a fiery topic at the last Treaty Seven Chiefs meeting, however no one from Treaty Seven was available for comment.

Villebrun said he will continue to push for another investigation.

"I'm hoping that my case will be one of those that will be reopened," said Villebrun.

CBC is reporting that Health Canada has allotted another $5 million for the centre's 2011 fiscal year.

The EpiCentre officially closed in 2009 but is now operating under the name of International Indigenous Centre for Health Intelligence.

Okaki is still the sole contractor.

Requests from Sweetgrass for interviews with Samanani and Health Canada officials were not returned.

BY LEISHA GREBINSKI Sweetgrass Writer

COPYRIGHT 2011 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Title Annotation:NEWS; Steve Villebrun
Author:Grebinski, Leisha
Publication:Alberta Sweetgrass
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2011
Words:506
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