No guarantee for government whistleblowers

 Current law doesn’t provide protection and needs to be rewritten, critics say


By Amy Minsky, Postmedia NewsOctober 28, 2010

Canadian law offers no hope that public servants who blow the whistle on immoral government activities will be protected from “vicious, determined and career-ending” revenge, a group of accountability advocates said Wednesday.

The whistleblower-protection system — laid out in the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act since 2007 — is riddled with so many loopholes and is so dysfunctional that it has to be stripped down and completely rebuilt, said Duff Conacher, coordinator for Democracy Watch, a national citizens’ group advocating democratic reform, government accountability and corporate responsibility.

Christiane Ouimet, the first federal public sector integrity commissioner, resigned on Oct. 18 while her office was being investigated by Auditor-General Sheila Fraser. Only three years into her seven-year term, Ouimet’s office received 170 complaints, but the commissioner never found any instances of wrongdoing.

Fifty-eight whistleblowers filed reports to the commissioner’s office since 2007-08, saying they were mistreated or violated after filing a complaint. The commissioner launched only four investigations as a consequence of those complaints, and only two have been completed.

The commissioner didn’t find any evidence of reprisal in either of those cases.

The advocates are now calling for an independent review of the all the claims made to that office.

Federal opposition parties all say they support the role of an independent watchdog, but none has made plans to reform the legislation or to reopen the claims.

“It’s totally counter-productive,” said NDP MP Bill Siksay. “It’s the total opposite of what the legislation was supposed to accomplish. Even her staff felt uncomfortable. They knew of issues that needed to be addressed and fixed. But there was no mechanism to do that.”

The Conservatives, however, maintain that the legislation has strengthened protection for whistleblowers.

“I am confident the [commission] continues to be a safe and independent agency for the public servants to bring concerns about wrongdoing in the workplace without fear of reprisals,” said Treasury Board President Stockwell Day.

But as Conacher and his peers see it, the problem with accountability and protection is two-pronged.

Ouimet’s strategy was seemingly designed to never produce any findings of wrongdoing, said David Hutton, of the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform, who co-signed– along with Conacher and Allan Cutler of Canadians for Accountability — an open letter on the issue to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and opposition party leaders.

And Hutton argues that any other commissioner is likely to hit a brick wall with the current legislation.

“A competent commissioner who actually sees their job as being to explore wrongdoing and protect whistleblowers will not accept the current law as their mandate,” he said.