Advanced Education and Skills Minister Joan Shea has called in the police to look at issues around an adult literacy program on Bell Island.
The announcement comes months after The Telegram first reported that PC MHA David Brazil was directly involved in administering government funding for an adult basic education program on Bell Island.
Documents provided to The Telegram showed that Brazil was responsible for signing the record of employment for one teacher, and arranged to pay somebody in beer in exchange for installing basic programs on a school computer.
In a brief news release issued Friday afternoon, Shea said an investigation by officials in her department recommended that the police take a look at the situation.
“After completing a review of materials, officials of the Department of Advanced Education and Skills recommended that file be provided to the RNC to ensure that the review is complete and thorough,” Shea said in the news release.
Neither Shea nor the RNC would provide further comment.
Brazil could not be reached for comment.
The documents made public in September showed that the Bell Island adult basic education program was being funded through the Bell Island Senior Hockey Association.
Some paycheques for teachers were marked as belonging to the “Bell Island Junior Blues,” a team that has been defunct for several years.
Brazil explained at the time that the Junior Blues cheques apply to the same bank account as the Bell Island Senior Blues — which is still an active team — and they didn’t want to waste money ordering new cheques.
Brazil explained back in September that before he was elected as an MHA he wanted to work to get government grant money to set up an adult literacy program on Bell Island. The only way to do that, he said, was to have a non-profit group onboard to help, and the only organization he could get to step up the program was the local hockey team.
As for the beer, Brazil explained that a beer company sponsored the hockey team, and that kind of barter is how they make the most of limited financial resources.
On Sept. 21 Shea promised an investigation into the situation and said it would take about a week.
After plans to continue the adult literacy program fell apart on Bell Island, Shea said the department would take more time to finish its review.
Liberal House Leader Yvonne Jones said the government needs to take a hard look at its whole system of giving grants to non-profit groups for adult education.
“It’s absolutely alarming when you hear of students going into an adult basic education program and they don’t have textbooks, so they have to borrow them,” she said. “They don’t have furnishings and copiers in the room, so they’re exchanging beer and everything else to get work done. I mean, those things are unheard of.”
Jones said up until now, her criticism on the issue was based on sloppy use of government money, but it’s “disturbing and alarming” to think there may be criminal charges coming.
New Democratic Party MHA Dale Kirby said he’ll have to wait until the RNC finishes its investigation to pass judgment, but the idea of a police investigation raises a lot of questions.
“These were funds that were intended to help people that were struggling in a lot of cases — people who haven’t completed high school and so on,” he said. “To think that these may have been misappropriated in some way, if that’s the case, is extremely concerning.”
Kirby said he wants at least some answers from Shea on why she felt she needed to call in the police.
“This creates a greater level of difficulty when there are these sorts of questions lingering about what exactly happened in the administration of an adult basic education program by a defunct hockey team that he ran,” he said. “It would be nice to hear from the minister at least as to why it was referred to the RNC.”