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Survey of public servants shows federal whistleblower protection law must be strengthened -- 5-year review must lead to key changes very soon

Survey must be done annually to measure effectiveness of law and protection system

Monday, February 6, 2012

OTTAWA -- A survey commissioned by the federal whistleblower watchdog shows that public servants are fearful of reprisals, have little confidence in the agency created to protect them, and have serious questions about the law under which it operates.

"Integrity Commissioner Dion deserves credit for commissioning this study and for making it public," remarked David Hutton, executive director of the whistleblower charity FAIR.  "The results demonstrate how hard it will be to restore confidence in his agency – in fact it will be impossible under the current law."

The survey revealed that after just a few minutes of studying the glossy brochure published by the Integrity Commissioner’s office, public servants could already spot serious gaps in the law.  They asked questions like "does the Office have enforcement powers?" (it does not); "does the Office have jurisdiction over Ministers of the Crown?" (it does not), and; "what types of punishment could wrongdoers face?" (none if they simply retire, as former Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet did).  (To see the survey, click here (PDF file))

FAIR, Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition, and Canadians for Accountability all support changes to close more than two dozen loopholes and serious shortcomings in the Act – revealed by an in-depth analysis by FAIR – that render the law largely useless.  All the groups are looking forward to the upcoming legally-required 5-year review, which is an opportunity for a major upgrade.  The Senate has also asked Integrity Commissioner Dion for his list of proposed improvements and the groups look forward to seeing this in due course.

“The Conservative government, Treasury Board and Justice Department are the same players who served up deeply-flawed legislation in 2006 with the bogus claim that they were providing ‘ironclad’ protection for whistleblowers.  We hope that this time they will listen to the experts in this field and make the changed needed to provide real protection for honest public servants,” said Hutton.

Allan Cutler of Canadians for Accountability said: "We don't need a survey to tell us that people's confidence in the office is low to non-existent.  We have whistleblowers coming to us and telling us of their experiences: run-arounds, staff turnover and lost files – these things are still happening right now.  Serious files being put to the bottom of the pile, even when human health issues are at stake."

Tyler Sommers Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chair of the Open Government Coalition said: "This focus-group process should be repeated annually to see if perceptions are changing, and there should also be an annual survey of public servants to provide numbers and measure trends.”

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Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Open Government Coalition
Tel: (613) 241-5179

David Hutton, Executive Director, FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform)
Tel: (613) 567-1511

Allan Cutler, President, Canadians for Accountability
Tel: (613) 863-4671

To see
two other key news releases about this issue, click here and click here

To see the December 2010 report on former disgraced Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet by Auditor General Sheila Fraser, click here.

To see why a full audit is still needed of past cases that Ouimet failed to investigate properly, click here.

To see the list of needed reforms to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, click here.

NOTE: FAIR and the Government Ethics Coalition call on federal parties to penalize Ouimet for her misconduct and claw back her obscene, undeserved $500,000 severance payoff (NOTE: The alliance has demanded that the payoff be cancelled and has also requested that the Auditor General audit the payoff and all other similar recent payoffs by the federal government).

Democracy Watch's Open Government Campaign page and Government Ethics Campaign page



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