The following article is an excerpt from a paper entitled The Federal Government is #Dismatling Democracy published by Voices-Voix. I pulled out the section on Whistleblowers but the whole document should be mandatory reading by Canadians before they go to the polls this fall. You can find the whole document at <http://voices-voix.ca/en/document/dismantling-democracy-stifling-debate-and-dissent-canada>
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT IS FAILING TO PROTECT WHISTLE-BLOWERS
Democratic processes and institutions are sometimes not enough to ensure the government remains accountable and responsive to the public’s needs.
Individuals who speak out against government misconduct, often described as whistle-blowers, deserve protection from reprisals and threats.
In December 2012, Edgar Schmidt, a senior lawyer in the Department of Justice, went public about the government’s failure to meet its obligations under the Charter. Specifically, Schmidt alleged that when reviewing proposed laws for compliance with the Canadian Bill of Rights and the Charter, government lawyers are being directed to approve all proposed legislation unless the draft law is “manifestly” or “certainly” inconsistent with human rights standards. This direction is inconsistent with the Canadian Bill of Rights, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms Examination
Regulations and the Statutory Instruments Act, which require the justice minister to notify Parliament if legislation is ‘likely’ inconsistent. Over the course of 2012, Schmidt repeatedly raised his concerns with the deputy minister, the chief legislative counsel and the associate deputy minister. Nothing was done in response to Schmidt’s concerns. Ultimately, Schmidt commenced legal proceedings against the government. He was suspended and banned from his office shortly thereafter. The legal proceedings are continuing.
Edgar Schmidt is not alone in experiencing reprisals after speaking out about government misconduct. In May 2008, Luc Pomerleau, a veteran biologist at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with 20 years of unblemished public service, came across a document for approval by the Treasury Board outlining a series of significant cuts to food safety measures. Pomerleau, who did not believe the document was confidential, forwarded it to his union as evidence of grave risks to the health and safety of Canadians. Two months later, he was fired for “gross misconduct” and “breaching security”, and deemed “unreliable”, entirely precluding him from working again in the public service. That same year: “20 people died from the bacterial infection listeriosis due to an outbreak at a meatpacking plant under federal inspection”.
Then, in 2012, the federal Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (PSIC) – who “handle[s] disclosures of wrongdoing and help[s] protect those who blow the whistle”– removed an advisory committee member, David Hutton, after he published an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen, accusing the PSIC of failing to properly investigate significant numbers of the complaints it receives, and jeopardizing the careers of whistle-blowers. [It should be noted that when Hutton was removed from the committee, Canadians for Accountability and Democracy Watch, also members of the committee, quit in protest.]
The federal government has undertaken a multifaceted assault on processes and institutions that are critical to maintaining a healthy Canadian democracy. The government’s proroguing of Parliament, use of massive omnibus budget bills, and straight-jacketing of parliamentary committees misuse parliamentary conventions and processes to undermine parliamentary debate and scrutiny of its conduct and proposed policies. It has undermined the ability of the public service to provide robust and effective advice. And it has sought to avoid accountability by attacking public servants, whistle-blowers and heads of oversight agencies.
Characterizing the Harper government’s interference with democratic institutions, oversight agencies, constitutional conventions and the public service, Errol Mendes, professor of constitutional and international law at the University of Ottawa and editor-in-chief of the National Journal of Constitutional Law, states “this abuse of executive power is tilting toward totalitarian government and away from the foundations of democracy and the rule of law on which this country was founded”.