This has been a bad month for public servants who want to do their
jobs honestly, without fear of reprisals for telling the truth or
respecting the law. Two recent events suggest that such employees are
more than ever in grave danger.
May 28th saw the publication of the first annual report by the Public
Sector Integrity Commissioner, the new whistle-blower protection
watchdog created by the Federal Accountability Act. Her job is to
investigate whistle-blowers' allegations of wrongdoing within the
public service, to report the results to Parliament, and to protect
the truth-tellers from reprisals.
Remarkably, in her first year of operation, with a staff of 21 people
and a budget of $6.5 million, the Commissioner has found not a single
instance of wrongdoing.
There are two possible interpretations of this outcome. One is that
there has been a remarkable clean up within government: that the
creaking system which has brought us so many scandals in the past is
suddenly squeaky clean. If we believe this, then none of the vast
river of money that flows through the system (about $1,500 million
each day) has been wasted or misappropriated. And not one of our
400,000 diligent public servants has observed any serious wrongdoing
all year. Hooray!
The other possible interpretation is that the new Commissioner's
office has been totally ineffective.
Regrettably, the Commissioner's report conveys the impression of a
career bureaucrat who will not 'rock the boat', rather than a
tough-minded investigator who will ferret out and expose wrongdoing
even in the highest places. Her first year has apparently been spent
establishing cordial relationships with the power elite in Ottawa. Her
report heaps praise on the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act,
repeating the government's public relations spin regarding this
much-criticized piece of legislation. Remarkably, she also declares
that investigating wrongdoing is not a high priority for her office,
although a fair reading of the legislation suggests that it is her
It is no surprise then that her office has received a pitifully small
number of valid 'disclosures' from whistle-blowers: only three that
were worth investigating. Public servants are simply not coming
forward to her in any significant numbers. She has not established her
credibility as a strong champion and defender of truth-tellers, who
can inspire honest public servants to risk their careers by
approaching her office.
Now that's a lot of case load: David Hutton with
a look at the Justice Department's files on this one
case involving Joanna Gualtieri. He estimates
the files total more than 50 feet—taller than a
five-storey building— and still growing.
There is still no date set for a trial. Mr. Hutton
simulated what this many boxes would look like
There's another reason why potential whistle-blowers are not coming
forward: they have seen the fate of others such as Joanna Gualtieri,
whose landmark case against Foreign Affairs reached its ten year
anniversary on June 10th.
Commencing in 1992 Ms. Gualtieri, a real estate strategist, spoke out
about lavish extravagance in the provision of accommodation for
Foreign Affairs staff abroad. Reports by the Inspector General and
Auditor General of Canada supported her allegations of waste. As a
result of her conscientious dissent she was harassed and given a
dead-end job. She finally left on medical leave, her health damaged
by this ordeal, and sued her former bosses for harassment and for
destroying her career.
What is extraordinary about this case is the no-holds-barred tactics
that government lawyers have engaged in for a full decade – all at the
taxpayer's expense. The presiding judge recently ruled that government
lawyers have been prolonging the case and running up Ms. Gualteri's
legal costs by abusing the pre-trial 'discovery' process. She has been
forced to answer 10,579 questions, most of them trivial or irrelevant
to her claim of harassment. Justice Department's files on this one
case total more than 50 feet – taller than a 5-storey building – and
still growing. There is still no date set for a trial.
This is not an isolated example: whistle-blower cases are routinely
handled in this way. The only difference is that Ms. Gualtieri is
still battling on after this ten year ordeal: most whistle-blowers are
quickly crushed and silenced by such tactics.
How can anyone expect truth-tellers to risk their careers by making
disclosures to the new Integrity Commissioner when they see how other
whistle-blowers are still being treated?
The Harper government's constantly-repeated mantra is that they have
provided 'ironclad' whistle-blower protection.
However the facts suggest that:
The complicated and costly whistle-blower protection system created by
the Accountability Act has been a complete failure
Whistle-blowers are being persecuted just as fiercely under this
government as they were in the past.
The Conservative promise to protect truth-tellers now looks
suspiciously like a cynical election campaign ploy. In order to show
good faith, the government must immediately stop stalling on
whistle-blower cases that are before the courts, and take steps to
strengthen this country's whistle-blower protection legislation.
Honest Canadian public servants deserve nothing less.
The Honourable David Kilgour, former Secretary of State
Dr. Michele Brill-Edwards, former Health Canada whistle-blower
Brian McAdam, former Foreign Affairs whistle-blower
David Hutton, Executive Director, FAIR (Federal Accountability
Initiative for Reform)