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 Whistleblowers Need Protection



A bad month for honest public servants
Remarkably, in her first year of operation, with a staff of 21 people and a budget
of $6.5 million, the Public Service Commissioner has found not a single instance
of wrongdoing.
By David Kilgour, Brian McAdams, Michele Brill-Edwards and David Hutton
The Hill Times, June 23, 2008

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 primary responsibility.

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 stacked up.

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) 


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