Ottawa Public Servants


“It Wasn’t Me”, or How She Learned …


Nicole couldn’t decide if her boss was joking or not. She smiled awkwardly, and asked,

“Really, Wilson? You think there are people who would spy on your computer screen through the window? From there?”

“There” was the boulevard outside, not busy except at rush hour, then the open, empty quarry across the street that was zoned for a casino someday in downtown Hull. Wilson kept the blinds closed to the theatric seventh floor view, even on a sunny, wintry day like today.

“Nicole, I’ve told you before, yes, there are spies in Ottawa who would love to telescope the secret DND information I have on my screen. Don’t ask me to open the blinds again.” Patiently, but with that deriding undertone, patronizing.

So, not joking. Nicole retreated to her cubicle and unlocked the combination on the filing cabinet where more codes for the hardware room were kept. Wilson made her change the combination weekly, and she was supposed to memorize it for her daily access. Blushing, she recalled the first time Wilson had told her the combination – and received the blistering reprimand to go to the orderly room and have the pad of paper she’d written it on, shredded, because of course someone could use a pencil to shade over the imprints to see the numbers. At least the Sergeant at the desk had laughed when she explained what Wilson had ordered and muttered something conspiratorial about what a jackass he was.

It was almost 3:30 and time to change the overnight tapes before she left for the day. A routine government IT job, if just a term. As a spousal transfer to Ottawa from Cold Lake with her military husband, she’d accepted this job over the phone. Wilson had seemed happy to hire her, explaining that the 2 year term was just a formality, and that she could expect to maybe even take over from him when he won one of the competitions he was applying for. Nicole was becoming more eager to help Wilson achieve his goal; lately, she’d begun exploring her own options – a database administrator with server experience and programming background – she’d could have her pick of positions in a government town.

“Goodnight, Nicole”, the Sergeant at the reception desk where Nicole locked up the previous night’s backups waved.

“Thanks Sergeant! See you tomorrow.” She double-yanked the handle on the cabinet; locked and loaded, she grinned in her head, until she unlocked tomorrow.

But the next day, Friday, Nicole called in sick, to go on a school outing with her son. Wilson wouldn’t have pre-approved it, she knew. She left a message on his phone.

Spring was definitely coming. Nicole was writing documentation, when Wilson appeared over her, a paper form quivering in his hands.

“Nicole, you have a security violation, from the Military Police checks on the weekend”. Harsh, but somewhat nervously, she thought. Nicole looked up at him – he didn’t offer the paper for her to see.

“You’re supposed to lock the filing cabinet by the Orderly Room every night, right?”

“Well, yes, and I always do – every single night..”

“Oh good, you admit it was you. Ok, don’t worry, this will be a first offence, and you’ll keep your clearance. As long as you admit it, no problem. Good.” Then he ran off. Nicole closed up her document on the screen and walked to the orderly room to look at job postings, not caring if Wilson saw her.

The next day an MP and Wilson’s boss, the Major, asked her to join them in a boardroom. They wanted her to sign something, it was an official warning, after 2 years clear, this would be expunged, that any other infractions would be permanently on her record, possible revokation of Secret level, blah, blah.

Dizzy, Nicole asked to see the paper. The date was from the month before, not this past weekend.

“I never leave the cabinet unlocked. This is dated last month. Wilson said it was on the weekend.”

“Yes, but you must have left it unlocked on the Friday before this Sunday check”, the MP said. The Major didn’t say anything.

“But I was sick one Friday last month, and I keep my leave passes and this is the weekend after my Friday off, I’m sure, I can go get the pass, to show you.”

“Who unlocks in the morning and locks up when you’re not here?”

Nicole looked at the Major. “Wilson is the only other person I know who does, to do the daily tape changes.” The Major didn’t say anything.

“So, I’m not signing anything”, Nicole said, and the two men let her leave, saying they would investigate further.

“Why did you tell the MPs I left the cabinet unlocked?” Wilson appeared over her desk, head lowered to hers.

“I didn’t – I said that it wasn’t me, that’s all”

“Well, you and I are the only ones with the combination, so you basically said it was me!”

“I didn’t say it was you. I said it wasn’t me.”

Wilson straightened. And ran off.

Nicole was let go end of fiscal, “due to departmental cutbacks”. The Sergeant confirmed that “Nicole always locked the cabinet, every night”, and the MPs closed the violation “unresolved”. The Major signed expenses for Wilson for the Security conference, knowing Wilson must have returned the classified material to the office, to the locked cabinet, sometime during the weekend before the Sunday in question, so as not to take it to his home, which would have been a violation. And Wilson could not afford another violation.

Wilson won a competition and moved up in the government. He eventually became a Chief Information Security Officer.

Nicole never had a violation. She made tons more money, more than the Major, or than a CISO, in her long career as an IT consultant in Ottawa.

The Major retired, tired.



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