All posts in category In the News

Do the right thing, how to blow the whistle on wrongdoing in the government: it’s not easy (part 1)

This piece first appeared in the Hill Times on March 20, 2017.

Whistleblowers are not well understood. They are under tremendous pressure and are faced with resolving their own personal belief in doing the right thing with survival. This affects them at work and at home.

The whistleblower may be faced with a number of situations: from blowing the whistle perhaps on the use of chemicals that have polluted the water table of neighbours, to blowing the whistle on financial fraud, to blowing the whistle on major and critical problems, such as in the Phoenix pay system.

The following is written from the perspective of a person who could be facing this type of dilemma and who is trying to decide what to do.

What should I do? I tried to bring up the problem to my manager. He listened, promised that action would take place but nothing happened. I know that he is concerned about taking a stand as that could end his career.

I am alone, isolated with no one to talk to or willing to support me. Since I spoke up, I am watched, my work closely scrutinized. Every word that I say can be used against me.Read the rest

Whistleblower protection: who really pulls the strings?

This piece first appeared in the Hill Times on February 27, 2017.

When examining the sorry track record of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner’s Office, it’s easy to overlook those primarily responsible: it was Privy Council Office (PCO) and the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS), working mostly behind the scenes, who—intentionally or not—set up PSIC to fail. Here’s how it was done.

The Role of Treasury Board:
Treasury Board drafted faulty legislation

Given the wide range of serious shortcomings in the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act (PSDPA), it’s difficult to believe that the drafters intended it to work—unless they were completely oblivious of best practices and other jurisdictions’ experience.

The most glaring example of this is the absence of a ‘reverse onus’ provision. The PSDPA puts the onus on whistleblowers to prove that the actions taken against them were reprisals—an almost impossible task. Effective whistleblowing laws shift the burden of proof to the employer to show that adverse actions were not intended as reprisals. This has been well understood for literally decades—since the disastrous experience of the Merit System Protection Board (in the U.S.) in the early 1980s. Without a reverse onus, of the first 2,000 whistleblowers who submitted claims of reprisal, only four prevailed.… Read the rest

Is the public sector integrity commissioner a friend or foe to whistleblowers?

This piece was first published in the Hill Times on February 20, 2017.

Last week, I wrote about the shortcomings of our government whistleblower protection system by examining the law itself. But that’s only half of the story: the efficacy of the program depends equally on those managing it, especially the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

This position, created in 2006, is a powerful one: the commissioner is an agent of Parliament, like the auditor general, with formidable investigative powers. However, unlike the Office of the Auditor General, the Office of the Integrity Commissioner (PSIC) does not have a proud track record—in fact it has been a troubled agency from day one.

These troubles have arisen, not because of the many shortcomings in the law but because of the actions of successive com- missioners, some of whom have consistently been criticized by the auditor general or the courts for neglecting their mandate and abusing their authority.

Over the past decade, all three successive commissioners have used similar methods which, by design or not, result in whistleblowers being discouraged or prevented from going to PSIC—and being denied protection when they do. Let’s look at a few examples.

The first two commissioners—In several cases  Ouimet and Dion—both took steps to water down or re-interpret PSIC’s mandate.Read the rest