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News Release

Federal Whistleblower Protection System Must Be Strengthened To Be Effective

Similar Changes Needed Across Canada

Thursday, October 7, 2010

OTTAWA - Today, at a forum in Ottawa held by the federal Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, Democracy Watch called on all federal parties to strengthen the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act and enforcement system.

"Until many changes are made, the federal government's whistleblower protection law will remain too weak to ensure good government rules are upheld and all whistleblowers protected from retaliation," said Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch.  "Not all whistleblowers are covered and supported by the law in all cases, the system moves too slowly and the Commissioner lacks key powers."

Democracy Watch and its nation-wide Government Ethics Coalition call on all federal political parties to strengthen the federal whistleblower protection system in the following ways:
  • all whistleblowers must be effectively protected from retaliation, including politicians, political staff, government suppliers and contractors and members of the public (because the Conservatives broke their 2006 election promise to "Ensure that all Canadians who report government wrongdoing are protected, not just public servants", the Federal Accountability Act (FAA - the section that changed the federal Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act) does not even protect all public servant whistleblowers);
  • whistleblowers must be allowed, in all cases, to file their complaint directly with the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (the Act currently prohibits whistleblowers in some situations from disclosing wrongdoing directly to the Commissioner);
  • everyone who witnesses or receives evidence of wrongdoing by anyone in federal politics must be required to report it to the Commissioner (with the Commissioner strictly and strongly required to keep their identity secret, and people allowed to submit evidence anonymously);
  • the identity of anyone in the federal government or federal politics found guilty of wrongdoing must be made public in all cases (it is not because the Conservatives broke their election promise to "Require the prompt public disclosure of information revealed by whistleblowers . . .");
  • the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner must be clearly designated as the trainer (including by issuing interpretation bulletins), investigator and enforcer of all Treasury Board manual policies (other than the policies enforced by the Auditor General) and must be required to conduct training sessions, conduct regular random audits of compliance and to investigate whistleblower complaints about violations of these policies;
  • when the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner refers a whistleblower complaint about the violation of another law, regulation or policy for which a designated investigative and enforcement agency exists, the Commissioner must be required to ensure that the agency investigates the complaint within 90 days, and if not must be required to investigate the complaint;
  • the Act must be changed to require employers to prove that no retaliation against a whistleblower has taken place (currently, the Act requires the whistleblower to prove that retaliation has not occurred);
  • the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner must be given the power to order chief executives to take corrective action, and chief executives must be required to report to the Commissioner on corrective actions taken (NOTE: the Act only gives the Commissioner the power to make recommendations, and does not require reports from chief executives on corrective actions taken);
  • the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner must be given the power to penalize any chief executive with a fine, suspension or firing if the chief executive does not comply with the Commissioner's order, or if anyone retaliates against a whistleblower or does not maintain a system that complies with the Act (currently, cases go to a tribunal made up of Federal Court judges);
  • the minimum fine for taking a reprisal against a whistleblower must be increased to $50,000, with a maximum range of fines from $100,000 to $200,000 (NOTE: the fines in the Act have no minimum, and the maximum range is $5,000 to $10,000, far too low to discourage employers from taking reprisals);
  • whistleblowers must receive adequate funding for legal advice (they currently don't because the Conservatives broke their 2006 election promise to provide "adequate legal counsel" to whistleblowers -- the Act only compensates whistleblowers for up to $1,500 in legal services expenses);
  • whistleblowers must receive compensation from the government general revenue fund adequate to seek another job (at least 6 months salary) if they want to (for example, if the whistleblowing process leaves them completely alienated from all their co-workers) and/or priority in switching jobs in the federal public service (the Conservatives broke their 2006 election promise to “Establish monetary rewards for whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing or save taxpayers dollars” -- they included a maximum $2,000 reward in the first version of the Act, but then they proposed an amendment (which passed) to remove the reward);
  • as with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner position, any person nominated and chosen to be the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner must be required to have legal experience enforcing ethics rules or laws to ensure proper enforcement of whistleblower protection measures, and must not be eligible for a renewal of their fixed term in office (to ensure that the Commissioner does not act as a lapdog to Cabinet to try to get re-appointed for a second term), and;
  • at least every 3 years, it must be required that an independent audit (by the Auditor General or other independent body) of the entire whistleblower protection system be conducted.
Similar changes are needed across Canada to provincial, territorial and municipal laws.

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For more information, contact:
Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: 613-241-5179

Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Campaign webpage


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