An immigration official was found not guilty Tuesday on eight charges relating to work permit issues.
Tichina Rickfield, formerly known as Sunshine McLaughlin, was found not guilty of all eight charges against her following trial by jury.
The charges related to a period between January 2009 and January 2010, when she worked in the Immigration Department and was acting secretary to the Work Permit Board. Seven of the charges alleged making a document without authority – either by changing a board decision on a work permit application from “deferred” to “approved” or by adding expedited matters to a meeting agenda.
The final charge was misconduct in a public office by falsifying work permit records.
On Friday, Feb. 13, three charges were withdrawn and the judge found there were five others for which there was insufficient evidence for the jury to consider.
On Tuesday morning, Justice Charles Quin instructed the jury on the remaining charges, emphasizing that each charge should be considered separately. He gave them a “route to verdict” chart that Crown Counsel Toyin Salako and defense attorney Fiona Robertson had agreed to.
This chart advised that jurors first ask themselves if they were sure the document was accurate. If they were not sure, the defendant was not guilty. If they were sure, they go on to ask question two. Were they sure that Ms. Rickfield made the document? If they were not sure, she was not guilty. If they were sure, they go on to ask question three. Was she authorized to make the document? If the answer was yes, she was not guilty. If the answer was no, they go on to the final question.
When making the document, did Ms. Rickfield intend to deceive? If the answer was no, she was not guilty. If the answer was yes, she was guilty.
Ms. Salako had pointed out that the Crown did not need to prove motive.
Ms. Robertson agreed, but asked why someone would risk an unblemished record and over 20 years service.
Crown witnesses included Chief Immigration Officer Linda Evans, who explained the work of the board. She said if discrepancies were found in the records, they were to be brought up at the next board meeting; corrections should not be made by secretaries.
Sherryl Miller, director of the Work Permit Board said that she and chairman Lemuel Hurlston conducted an investigation because of concerns and then met with Ms. Rickfield, who did not give satisfactory answers when asked about those concerns. She said it was not true that she sought to discredit Ms. Rickfield or try to get rid of her. She said they had a good working relationship, not a personal relationship.
Mr. Hurlston, in his evidence, said adding “walk-ons” to the agenda were always the chairman’s decision. He explained how meeting minutes were confirmed after a meeting finished and copies of what had been done were printed out, checked and signed.
Chairman from August 2009 until late 2010, Mr. Hurlston said he recalled having concerns about the accuracy of some minutes. He asked Ms. Rickfield for explanations and was not satisfied with her answers. This led to an investigation.
Mr. Hurlston said he was amazed at the number of work permit applications. It was clear to him that the department was overworked and disorganized. He said he was not aware of any tension between Ms. Miller and Ms. Rickfield. He accepted there were no written guidelines as to what was or wasn’t a “clerical error.”
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson was called by the Crown because he was formerly Chief Immigration Officer. He said Ms. Rickfield had worked with him for about seven years and was promoted twice. He described her as a very good worker with in-depth knowledge, 100 percent reliable and hard-working. She had enjoyed his full trust and confidence, Mr. Manderson said.
Because of the backlog of applications, he was under pressure and put his staff under pressure. The board was under pressure, too. He added that he was also aware of computer problems.
He knew about the acrimonious relationship between Ms. Miller and Ms. Rickfield; he said he had asked Ms. Miller to bring him evidence of any wrong-doing, but he never received any.
Mr. Manderson said he did specifically discourage sharing of passwords because the practice could compromise the security of the system; if that were brought to his attention, he would take disciplinary action.
Final Crown evidence came from Jeremy Scott, who conducted a second, larger audit of records and found irregularities, and Detective Constable Ingrid Spence, who conducted the police investigation.
Ms. Rickfield did not give evidence but produced three letters of reference, two from former deputy chief immigration officers, and called former Work Permit Board chairman Sharon Roulstone.
In summing up the evidence, Justice Quin noted that Ms. Roulstone, who served from 2007 to 2009, said she found Ms. Rickfieldd to be hard-working, meticulous, loyal and an exemplary employee.
She had found the environment difficult to work in, citing an instance when needed files were locked in an assistant secretary’s office; times when files were not available; occasions when board members ran out of time; and times when the computer system crashed. She thought Ms. Miller did not like Ms. Rickfield, for reasons she did not understand.
Justice Quin read into the record a series of admissions the Crown and defense had agreed to. Among them was Ms. Rickfield’s acceptance that, when she was spoken to by Mr. Hurlston and Ms. Miller, she “had an attitude.”
The judge also noted the delay from 2009 until the present, and pointed out it was no fault of the defendant.