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
This piece was first published in the Hill Times on February 13, 2017.
Whistleblower protection advocates across Canada were celebrating last week when the news broke that Hon. Scott Brison, President of Treasury Board, had suddenly asked the Government Operations Committee (OGGO) to conduct a review of the federal whistleblower protection law (the PSDPA). This review, which by law should have taken place 5 years ago, has been steadfastly blocked by Treasury Board since 2012. Why the sudden change of heart? No-one knows.
The big question now is whether members of OGGO can find the time, determination and resources to do justice to this very important task, handed to them at very short notice.
Hearings began on Tuesday, and on Thursday morning three civil society witnesses were called – Allan Cutler, David Yazbeck and myself. We presented damning testimony regarding the dysfunctional nature of both the law and the Integrity Commissioner’s office. We pleaded with the committee to call a wide range of follow-up witnesses – outside experts rather than those running the system – in order to obtain a proper understanding of how badly broken the current system is. And we offered detailed suggestions on how to fix it.… Read the rest
Posted by DavidH on February 20, 2017
We are now about six months into the new Liberal government mandate. It’s a good time to stop and take stock. From a whistleblowing viewpoint, has anything changed under the new regime?
There are some indicators of a positive change. In November 2015, scientists were reported to have been “unmuzzled.” We’ve also heard from public servants speaking off the record about a positive change in culture inside government; impartial advice is again valued. The new government has also dropped several legal cases—for example, one in which the previous government tried to silence Cindy Blackstock and her efforts to get fair funding for aboriginal education.
On the other hand, there are also negative indicators. While the Liberals promised to be open by default with information—and continue to reinforce this message—they have recently announced that reforms to the Access to Information Act will have to wait until 2018. This is a major disappointment for advocates. They believe that good recommendations for change already exist and simply have to be enacted. So why the wait? After 10 years of Conservative government, none of the skeletons in the closet will belong to the Liberals. There are still significant delays in obtaining information from departments under the ATI.… Read the rest
Posted by Allan Cutler on May 19, 2016