A company at the centre of a recent APTN investigation has won a lucrative contract to provide pharmacy and health services to 22 remote Manitoba First Nations.
Grand Medicine Health Services had the mail-in prescription contract for northern Manitoba for 17 years, according to government documents, before losing it to another bidder in 2015.
Earlier this month, APTN Investigates revealed that back in 1999 – the first year of the contract –Grand Medicine co-owner, Gabriel Patterson, was awaiting trial on several pimping charges in Toronto.
The contract came to be under the watch of Paul Cochrane, a disgraced Health Canada bureaucrat who was eventually jailed for taking kickbacks from Sagkeeng First Nation’s Virginia Fontaine Treatment Centre.
Shortly after the contract was won, Patterson’s business partner, Gail Halko left the company, handing it over to Patterson. When asked by APTN Investigates, she wouldn’t say if her departure was related to the charges Patterson faced.
In May 2000 Patterson was convicted of charges including procuring, living off the avails of prostitution, kidnapping, and uttering death threats.
He began his seven-year sentence in June 2000.
On the eve of that, he gave Grand Medicine, along with the federal government contract, to his mother, Catherine Patricia Patterson, herself a former sex trade worker turned school teacher. She was running the company responsible for getting medications to patients in remote vulnerable communities.
In 2003, Grand Medicine was sold to a newly-formed company called Northwest Healthcare. Halko returned as Grand Medicine’s chief operating officer and a shareholder. And shareholders in Northwest Healthcare? Patterson’s twin daughters. They would have been eight years old.
Upon release from prison after serving four of his seven-year sentence, Patterson emerged on Northwest Healthcare’s corporate documents as president.
Northwest owns 51 per cent of Grand Medicine while Halko owns the other 49.
Yet Halko told APTN via email Patterson “has not been a partner, owner or shareholder in our company since 1999. He has in no way been involved in the operation or governance of Grand Medicine since that time.”
And she said Grand Medicine didn’t have the pharmacy contract for periods in 2000 2001 and 2003 although the government’s records show the contract went uninterrupted from 1999 to 2015. And in 2011, Ottawa even expanded the contract to include other non-insured health benefits. Taxpayers were paying Grand Medicine $9-$10 million a year in the final five years of the deal.
The latest contract was awarded last month.
“Grand Medicine Health Services submitted the most competitive bid following the solicitation and has been awarded the contract for a 13-month-period,” said a Health Canada spokeswoman in an email to APTN.
The government wouldn’t say how many bids were submitted before the June 2 deadline
The contract was granted under the Aboriginal Set Aside Program, which gives favor to Aboriginal-owned companies.
But APTN obtained parole board documents that reveal Patterson was chairman of the black inmate’s committee in prison and the board questioned the authenticity of an Indigenous “spiritual journey” he embarked upon.
Patterson declined interview requests but through his lawyer says he is as “AfroMetis” of Mi’kmaw and Mohawk decent.
His lawyer also said he served his prison time and is now a law-abiding citizen.
Public Services and Procurement Canada said since an Integrity Regime was implemented in 2015, there’s closer scrutiny of who is involved in the businesses seeking government contracts.
That same year, Grand Medicine lost the contract to newcomer Muskehki Pharmacy.
Regina-Lewan MP Erin Weir is the NDP’s public procurement critic.
“I think government procurement has had a lot of problems. It’s a work in progress and there’s room for improvement,” said the critic.
He doesn’t, however, have a problem with people with criminal records getting government contracts.
“I wouldn’t suggest a blanket ban on ex-convicts being involved in government contracts because of course, we do have a correctional system that is based on rehabilitation,” said Weir. “After someone has done their time we need to be careful, but if they’ve rehabilitated and reintegrated into society, that’s something we should want to encourage.”