The Golden Whistle Award is an annual award given by POGG (Peace, Order and Good Government), an Ottawa-based discussion group led by Harry Weldon. The award is sponsored by Canadians for Accountability and is awarded annually to an individual who has done a service to Canada in the pursuit of truth and accountability.
2014 was the seventh year the Golden Whistle Awarded was presented by POGG Canada and Canadians for Accountability. This year’s winner was Sylvie Therrien, a former employee of Employment and Social Development Canada, who blew the whistle on a grossly unethical policy targeting employment insurance claimants.
When she started her job as a federal Employment Insurance fraud investigator, Ms. Therrien was surprised to find out that the main – perhaps only – measure of her performance was whether she had met her target for cutting off EI claimants on the basis of fraud: $35,000-$40,000 per month. Rather than assessing each case on the basis of its merits and assuming innocence until proven guilty, she and other fraud inspectors were told to comb through people lives to find any excuse to cut benefits. Executives were (and remain) in a conflict of interest, being rewarded for cutting the benefits of recipients with large year-end bonuses.
When Ms. Therrien raised concerns at work, she was ordered to shut her mouth or face consequences. Her co-workers, rightly concerned about reprisals being turned in their direction, began to shun her. She went on sick leave when her health deteriorated under so much harassment.
Finally, unable to endure the cognitive dissonance any longer, she chose the path of moral courage: knowing internal avenues were blocked or dangerous, she leaked documents to the press. Her superiors traced the leak and her security clearance was revoked. In practical terms that meant that she was fired.
When questioned about the matter Ms. Therrien had brought to light, the government claimed that it wasn’t a quota, but rather a target. Furthermore, it argued that it was justified in firing her because she had ignored internal avenues of dissent and had released documents not intended for public disclosure. We have seen her evidence and heard her description of events and do not believe the government’s explanations to be credible. Because of this, and because she stood up for the weakest in our society, we chose Ms. Therrien for the Golden Whistle Award. She still has a long, hard fight ahead of her, so if you support her, please consider visiting the petition for her reinstatement at Avaaz.org.
Past Year Awards
Left to right: Evan Vokes, Allan Cutler and Harry Weldon
2013 was the sixth year of the award. The recipient was Mr. Evan Vokes, B.Sc., P.Eng., of Calgary, Alberta. Mr Vokes was a professional materials engineer and whistleblower at TransCanada Pipelines (TCPL).
During Mr. Vokes’ employment with TCPL, he informed management that the failure to follow code and regulation was key in a catastrophic failure of a new pipeline. In response to an invitation from the TCPL CEO, Mr. Vokes expressed concerns about what he viewed as TCPL’s negligence regarding enforcement of compliance with the National Energy Board (NEB) Onshore Pipeline Regulations. He remains concerned that welds could fail in the future and lead to pipeline failures with negative environmental impacts and personal safety consequences.
In March 2012 Mr. Vokes met with the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Alberta Professional Association of Engineers and Geoscientists to discuss the response to a failed internal audit. In a public document addressed to TCPL in October 2012, the NEB validated Mr. Vokes’ position on pipeline joints and the required independence of inspection of pipeline to ensure compliance to code and regulation. TCPL remains under investigation.
Workplace friction eventually led to stress leave in November 2011. Although TCPL could find no fault in Mr. Vokes’ work, he was dismissed by TCPL on May 8, 2012. Mr. Vokes’ concerns appear to have been validated by a number of pipeline incidents, and he has been asked to testify in both the United States and Canada.
The awarding of the Golden Whistle Award recognizes Mr. Vokes’ integrity and resolve, despite the costs to him and his family.
The recipient for 2012 was Mr. Brian Skakun of Prince George, British Columbia, where he is a member of the municipal council. He made public a municipal internal report on the basis that “the public has a right to know… what was going on at City Hall.” In an unprecedented court case, Mr. Skakun was prosecuted under British Columbia’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
The precedent setting (and, we believe, erroneous) decision of the court was to extend the provisions of the Act to elected officials. Normally, such provisions only apply to “officers” – that is, unelected officials. This could have a serious impact on the ability of elected officials to call bureaucrats and others to account. The matter is now in the appeal process.
Left to right: Harry Weldon stands with Allan Cutler, Golden Whistle Award winner Sean Bruyea, and Sean’s wife, Carolina
The recipient for 2011 was Sean Bruyea. Captain Sean Bruyea (Ret’d) is a veteran of the Gulf War and one of Canada’s leading advocates for the fair and just treatment of injured soldiers, veterans and their families. His exceptional efforts resulted in the creation of the position of Veteran’s Affairs Ombudsman and in improved treatment for our wounded veterans and for the families of those killed while fighting for Canada.
He was a vocal critic of the New Veterans Charter, which sacrifices lifelong benefits for wounded veterans in favour of a lump-sum payment to a maximum of $276,000. Internal Veterans Afairs communications and independent analysis have shown that this was a cynical move to save money at the expense of veterans, and that veterans wounded worst would be the most affected.
Sean’s advocacy came at a cost, however: Veterans Affairs officials, concerned about the effect Seans advocacy was having, instituted a series of reprisals against him. This included attempts to have him committed to a mental health facility, bogus psychological exams with pre-determined results, threats to end his veteran’s benefits and widespread and illegal dissemination of his medical records in an effort to discredit him.
A damning report by the Privacy Commissioner and public attention to his plight forced the government to issue an apology and reach a settlement with Sean. He continues to work for improved benefits for veterans, including a funadamental changes to the New Veterans Charter.
Captain Bruyea is being recognized by POGG and Canadians for Accountability this year for his courage in stepping up to defend veterans rights and exposing bureaucratic wrongdoing.
Harry Weldon (left) stands with Golden Whistle Award winner Allan Cutler
The 2010 Golden Whistle Award winner was Allan Cutler. He was a senior procurement manager at the federal government ministry Public Works and Government Services Canada when, in the mid-1990s, he noticed irregularities in the spending of sponsorship funds in Quebec. (The program was established as an effort to raise awareness of the Government of Canada’s contributions to Quebec industries and other activities in order to counter those working to promote Quebec independence.)
Allan reported these irregularities to his superiors, who at first ignored him. When he remained persistent, efforts were made to cover up the abuses and a campaign of reprisal against him was initiated. The problems eventually reached the public eye and became known as the Sponsorship Scandal or Adscam. Allan also testified to the Gomery Commission, which was launched in September 2004 and released its final report in February 2006.
The courage and conviction Allan showed in the face of harassment and retribution was instrumental in promoting calls for greater whistleblower protection. This ultimately led to the 2006 Accountability Act and the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
You can find more information on his web site at http://ascutler.com/.
Allan Cutler (left) and Carol Simpson (right) stand with Golden Whistle Award winner Bernard Payeur (centre)
The 2009 award winner was Bernard Payeur. Bernard, working as a financial systems analyst in the Department of Foreign Affairs during the early 1980s, discovered that Foreign Affairs staff had defrauded the taxpayers of more than seven million dollars, and that the fraud had been going on for some time. He reported his findings to persons senior to him in the expectation that the fraud would be stopped and the guilty persons brought to justice. His allegations were shunted aside and he was subjected to severe reprisals, including his ultimate dismissal.
Bernard was a pioneer in Canadian whistleblowing. His actions demonstrated the integrity and honesty that Canadians desire and expect from their government and public service, and his strenuous and noble fight against government employee abuse of taxpayers’ money has inspired numerous others to stand up for what is right over the last 30 years.
We recommend that you read Bernard’s acceptance speech; it provides an excellent description of the kangaroo court process he faced when trying to fight reprisals:
2008 Golden Whistle Award
Allan Cutler (left) and Harry Weldon (right) stand with Golden Whistle Award winner Perry Dunlop (centre)
The recipient for 2008 was Perry Dunlop, whose courageous actions in exposing the sexual abuse of minors in Cornwall, Ontario, cost him his reputation and his career. They also triggered the Cornwall Public Inquiry.
Read Perry Dunlop’s acceptance speech:
Created: October 28, 2008