When I first started 10 years ago, whistleblowing was a dirty word

It has been 10 years since the Liberals’ Sponsorship Scandal and my elevation to be known as “The Whistleblower.” This was not my choice. Leadership comes in various forms. The most common is those who seek to be the leader. The least common is being forced to be a leader by representing something of importance. That is the role that I was assigned and not the role I chose.

Once identified, I had options of what to do with the label “The Whistleblower” given to me by the media during the Sponsorship Scandal. I could ignore it and fade into the background or use
it to try and make changes. The latter was my chosen route.

For the last 10 years, I have been representing whistleblowers and giving suggestions on how they might want to address their situations. The decisions are always theirs. Some, learning
what they face, have retreated and allowed corruption to continue. Fortunately, the majority have
had the courage of their convictions and have fought the good fight—usually unsuccessfully.

I have continued speaking and writing about whistleblowing—what it entails and how corruption is allowed to exist. I point out that there are only three types of participants in a corrupt situation—the abuser, the fighter (whistleblower) and the enablers. If you know it exists and do nothing, you condone corruption. The reaction of an audience is usually very interesting when they realize that there is no fourth choice.

What has changed, you might ask? The answer is everything and nothing. When I first started 10 years ago, whistleblowing was a dirty word. In fact, one journalist referred to me as “the Sponsorship Snitch.” The media claimed to be supportive but, in fact, the remarks addressed to me and about me were often negative. Some, such as Michael Harris, Dave Brown and Robert Fife, were extremely supportive. Others were not so kind.

The meanings of words do change. The use of “whistleblower” is no longer negative in the media. There is a greater understanding of the effort needed to try and correct corrupt or illegal practices. In fact, I have noted that the meaning is becoming positive in its usage. This is a significant change and not to be underestimated.

On the other hand, the actual experiences of whistleblowers have changed only slightly. For the most part, they still experience adversity. Their personal lives suffer. Their work careers are destroyed. It is a rare whistleblower who can fight against the prevailing wisdom, “What are you doing and why are you doing it to us?”

For my part, I am still the only federal public servant involved with the Sponsorship Scandal who has suffered financially. It often seems that the honesty does not pay. The taint continues. I have heard from more than one Liberal that I am to blame for their loss in the 2006 election and that they will never forget this.

In fact, I was told directly not to bother applying to be a Senator as the application would be “torn up.” This, by the way, is why I did not apply. There is no point when you are facing a rigged deck.

The truth is very different. I have never blamed the Liberal Party for what happened to me.
There were some Liberals involved in what was known as the Sponsorship Scandal. But every
party has some corrupt individuals. The fact is the vast majority of Liberals have integrity and good intentions. The few spoiled it for the majority. This same situation exists in the Conservative and NDP parties. People are human and in any large organization there are a few corrupt people.

In any event, the fight continues. Bradley Birkenfeld, the U.S. whistleblower who exposed
hidden off-shore accounts in his country, is willing to come to Canada to speak about $1-billion
in unpaid taxes due to off-shore accounts in Canada. Not so surprisingly, the House Finance
Committee does not want to hear from him. We have to wonder who is being protected if Canadian citizens are not being protected from tax fraud.

This piece first appeared in the Hill Times on November 21, 2016.


Big gap between Liberal rhetoric and action on veterans issues

By Sean Bruyea

Veterans and Canadians better stop holding their breath. Minister of Veterans Affairs Kent Hehr is way behind schedule and doesn’t have the oomph to fulfill his mandate letter. Ultimately, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberal government will be charged and condemned for this bungling of veterans’ issues.

When broken down, Minister Hehr’s mandate letter listed 23 or so priority promises. Of those, one year into the mandate, only two have been fully implemented and another partially.

Injured veterans are in the process of receiving income-loss payments increased from 75 to 90 per cent of military salary. Also, the annual cap at two per cent has been removed, allowing the annual income to keep pace with the consumer price index. As for the partially fulfilled promises: the first of nine Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) district offices has opened with a lengthy timetable for the remaining eight.

There is little excuse for delay for most other promises. It costs little to “end the time limit for surviving spouses to apply for vocational rehabilitation and assistance services.” Some cost more but are straightforward such as “increase the veteran survivor’s pension from 50 to 70 per cent.” Considering just more than 53,000 “survivors” currently collect pensions and approximately 3,000 sadly pass away each year, time is of the essence.

Expect bureaucratic muddling and manipulation on the rest.

Whenever a recommendation allows wiggle room, bureaucrats have addressed the bare minimum or a minor aspect of the recommendation. They then claimed the recommendation was addressed. VAC mandarins have long resisted guaranteed response and processing times. Hence, the Liberal promise to “deliver a higher standard of service and care” will likely result in some meaningless internal performance marker.

Like most of Canada’s federal departments, suffering little or no consequences for failure even when it causes real harm to Canadians is what many senior bureaucrats, especially those isolated in VAC’s Charlottetown head office, consider “public service.”

What about Justin Trudeau’s promise of returning to lifelong monthly tax-free payments for the pain and suffering of lifelong disabling injuries? VAC bureaucrats have already duped many in and outside advisory groups to reject the lifelong pension promise. Instead, bureaucratic handlers are feeding misleading information to the groups to accept one-time lump sums as compensation for a lifetime of anguish. Bureaucrats use such specious arguments as “the bureaucratic process takes too much time to change big things in a single mandate” or “there’s not enough money in the till.” In the case of veterans’ programs, both are grossly deceptive.

As for bureaucratic delays, the Liberal government galvanized a nation and multiple departments including the Canadian Forces to acquire and renovate accommodations, initiate screening, reinforce staffing in Middle Eastern embassies, process support payments, and provide health-care and education while arranging the transportation of 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canadian soil. Time taken: four months.

Military veterans understand the urgency of obligations. Fulfilling the rhetoric of government commitments is a daily duty for them. Veterans have been swimming in an ocean of disingenuous platitudes about the debt government and Canada owes them. What veterans can’t and shouldn’t have to understand and what fundamentally betrays their sacrifice for our nation is why bureaucratic process can delay or outright deny political direction and promise with impunity. Delaying and distorting Prime Minister Trudeau’s mandate promises is a moral forfeiture of the debt Canada tangibly owes our veterans.

Is there money in the till? It is as if each budget is a big surprise for bureaucrats discovering that there are 200,000 veterans and their survivors on the books. Unlike insurance companies and private pension plans, government is not required to put aside money now for veterans in the future. This is where reality and rhetoric clash. Veterans should not be made to suffer Ottawa’s inept fiscal planning. If there is a debt owed our veterans, and government fails to plan ahead, then government must incur fiscal debt to honour the moral debt to our veterans and their families.

Why has the diminishment of our Canadian Forces veterans been allowed to continue for 60 years under successive governments, all repeating the same insincere balderdash? Veterans Affairs has been a perpetual bridesmaid of ministries. Usually the most incompetent or inexperienced of cabinet members is appointed to this low priority portfolio.

Even with unprecedented attention upon veterans this past decade, the senior bureaucrats run the show. So-called widespread consultations are nothing more than a facade. Senior bureaucrats tenaciously cling to their version of stakeholders. Appointed to groups and invited to summits are individuals or organizations whose members have little or no stake in VAC programs and have little if any expertise in the field. Others will not meaningfully or publicly question the policy path that has been so damaging to veterans and their families this past decade under the lump-sum program known as the New Veterans Charter.

The New Veterans Charter is little more than an old-school income-loss and rehabilitation plan copying insurance models from the 1960s and ’70s. Ironically, lifelong compensation for pain and suffering is still a pillar of modern recognition and restitution of injury and loss. VAC bureaucrats are deceiving often naive or sycophantic veterans and pseudo-stakeholders.

Let’s look at a clear example of ministerial ineffectiveness and bureaucratic callous insouciance. Veterans and their families have been calling for a picture-identification cards for recognition and independent access to family benefits. If Minister Hehr in his unprecedented appointment as associate minster of National Defence cannot provide such a simple, inexpensive gesture of dignity, then there is little hope he or the Liberal camp will fully and substantively implement all the promises in this mandate or five more.

However, by following this path there may not be another mandate. Most Canadian voters were aware that veterans are getting the short end during the last election. Former prime minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives paid the price for the antics and inaction of various ministers such as Julian Fantino. Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals may well pay the price for Minister Hehr’s lackadaisical approach to leadership.

This oped was first published in the Hill Times on October 31, 2016 (subscription only).


Birkenfeld believes there’s at least $1-billion in federal unpaid taxes in Canada

By Allan Cutler

For the past four years, I have been attempting to get Bradley Birkenfeld to come to Canada and assist the Canadian government by testifying and providing valuable documentation regarding the illegal off-shore industry. Birkenfeld believes that there is at least $1-billion in federal unpaid taxes in Canada.

Birkenfeld was an American banker working in Switzerland. As a whistleblower, he exposed the largest and longest running tax fraud by Americans using off-shore accounts. The unprecedented results were shocking and ultimately he received an award of $104-million from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) since more than $5-billion of unpaid taxes were recovered. In keeping with the fine traditions of the U.S.A., the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecuted him (and only him) for the exact revelations that had resulted in this award. The absolutely false argument made by the DOJ was that he withheld a client name from them. In any event, he received a criminal record and a 31-month jail term for the historic and courageous actions.

The story does not end there. Birkenfeld has been instrumental in the massive fraud investigation against the Swiss Banks and the further release of names of tax evaders by Swiss authorities. To this day, Birkenfeld continues to fight this corruption and has helped a number of foreign governments to recover what is rightly owed them.

That brings us back to my first comment. I have been attempting to have Birkenfeld come and testify in Canada for four years. As a convicted criminal (due to his historic whistleblowing), Birkenfeld is unable to come to Canada without special permissions.

Birkenfeld provided some proof to Canada’s Department of Justice (Justice Canada) about eight years ago. This appears to have been conveniently lost. In fact, Justice Canada responded to an access to information request to state that this had never happened even though we had supplied the name of the federal public servant in Justice Canada that Birkenfeld contacted in Canada.

During this period of time, the Conservatives passed a law regarding rewarding whistleblowers who revealed tax evasion. Curiously, a provision of this law stated that if a person had a criminal record they were not eligible to receive this reward. At this time the Justice Canada was already aware of Birkenfeld, who coincidently has a criminal record for exposing massive offshore fraud. Both Birkenfeld and I believe that this provision was added to the law deliberately to discourage him from reporting fraud and tax evasion in Canada.

In the past four years, I have attempted to contact all the political parties. The Green Party, represented by Elizabeth May, has never even acknowledged my emails or my attempts to meet with her. The NDP, Liberals, and Conservatives have all been very reluctant to provide help. None of them seems to want those who have committed tax evasion to be named. None of them were willing to have Birkenfeld come and testify before a parliamentary committee. None of them were willing to help sponsor Birkenfeld so he could enter Canada.

Since the Liberals came to power, nothing has changed. In spite of continued attempts, no politician is willing to assist in getting Birkenfeld into Canada. No one wants to have Bradley Birkenfeld testify before a parliamentary committee and expose those who committed fraud. The question needs to be asked, “Why are politicians of all parties avoiding looking into massive off-shore tax evasion?”

Liberal ministers have spoken about the need to investigate this but there has been no action in spite of repeated attempts. As I stated, for more than four years, with two different political parties in power, I have been waiting to be contacted for action. My email address is allan@allancutlerconsulting.com if any politician is willing to help.

How can action speak louder than words when there are only words and NO action?

Allan Cutler is past president of Canadians for Accountability, a group formed to help whistleblowers, fight corruption, and advocate for truth, justice and transparency.

First published in the Hill Times on October 3, 2016.