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
Posted by DavidH on March 11, 2017
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
Posted by DavidH on March 6, 2017
Ian Bron and Allan Cutler
Last week, the government announced that Stephen Harper had appointed a new Integrity Commissioner, Joe Friday, who has been with the office since 2008 and was the last Commissioner’s Deputy. This was not a surprise to us, but it is a disappointment. It is also a slap in the face of conscientious public servants looking for a safe place to report misconduct. They, as well as the Canadian public have a right to expect an aggressive, thorough, and competent Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (OPSIC).
Friday served under both previous Commissioners, Christiane Ouimet and Mario Dion. Ouimet’s tenure was an unmitigated disaster. Just three and a half years into her tenure, she resigned in the face of a damning report from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) that concluded she had been engaging in the very kinds of acts she was supposed to be preventing – harassment and reprisals against staff believed to be speaking out about abuse and mismanagement in her office. She left with her pension intact and a $500,000 lump sum. When called before Committee in 2010, Friday denied seeing anything wrong: “Madame Ouimet was carrying that out in her role as commissioner, which would be appropriate.… Read the rest
Posted by Ian Bron on April 6, 2015