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 Whistleblowers Need Protection


Leadership: Vision, Principles, Service

By Hon. David Kilgour,
At the "Stand Tall and Speak Out Conference"
Law Faculty, University of Ottawa
May 17, 2009

Congratulations to James Valitchka, the sponsors of this event and all of you. Respect, integrity, confidence and a spirit of public service in the face of injustices anywhere are the qualities of true leaders. Your participation here speaks volumes about your own leadership goals.Your topic could hardly be more timely as our country and world today face unprecedented economic and social challenges.

James asked me to say why I was in Geneva until yesterday and the week before in the Philippines. On the first, about 3500 Iranian refugees live at Camp Ashraf in Iraq and their lives remain in danger because elements of the Iraqi coalition government, which are under the influence of clerical tyrants in Tehran, want to return them to certain death in Iran or, failing that, remove them forcibly to an uninhabitable desert in the outer reaches of Iraq. The applicable UN agencies based in Geneva must stand up for the 3500 women and men under the principles of international humanitarian law.

On Manila, it was a faith conference about diasporas around the world and included highly disturbing references to trafficking in persons. Consider these three points made at the event:

-According to National Geographic magazine, there were in 2003 "more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries."

-600,000-700,000 persons, eighty percent woman and children, are trafficked internationally every year. There were about 27 million of them in 2003.

-David Batstone's book, Not For Sale, notes: " Girls and boys, women and men of all ages, are forced to toil in the rug loom sheds of Nepal, sell their bodies in the brothels of Rome, break rocks in the quarries of Pakistan and fight wars in the jungles of Africa."


Words from scripture--"Without a vision the people perish"--are carved onto an outside wall of the peace tower here in Ottawa. Our ancestors viewed vision as imperative for Canada and good leaders. Vision is about having the integrity and confidence to lead toward aspirations that inspire both hope and action. US president Barrack Obama is such a leader.

In his inaugural address, the new president noted that the American people "have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." He reminded us that "without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous." He called on listeners to share the responsibility and work hard toward the great ambitions of humanity. "Greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less." Millions of people in the US and across the earth have been inspired by his vision, expressed simply as "yes we can!"

True to Principles

In both of his books, The Audacity of Hope and Dreams From My Father, Obama shares his leadership principles: honesty, fairness, equality, independent thinking and service to the public. One could add accountability, avoiding political expediency and pursuit of excellence. I was deeply impressed by how his mother ingrained these principles in him.

Consider this passage in Dreams:

"Increasingly, (mother) would remind me of ( father's) story, how he had grown up poor, in a poor country (Kenya), in a poor continent, how his life had been hard, as hard as anything that (stepfather in Indonesia) might have known. He hadn't cut corners, though, or played all the angles. He was diligent and honest no matter what it cost him. He had led his life according to principles that demanded a different kind of toughness, principles that promised a higher form of power. I would follow his example, my mother decided. I had no choice. It was in the genes."

"And it was in search of some practical application of these values (to "build community and make justice real") that I accepted work after college as a community organizer for a group of churches in Chicago that were trying to cope with joblessness, drugs and hopelessness in their midst."

President Obama, Michelle Obama and their girls are a story of America's progress. It is also one that embodies our struggle to achieve a better world, a reality in which the pursuit of the inalienable right to human dignity for all should unite humankind. Leaders should never waver in their determination to achieve this goal.

Fighting for principles unfortunately is often an uphill battle in many parts of the world, a reminder of how precious is the rule of law and democracy Canadians and Americans often take for granted.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Another leader who has inspired many around the world is Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate, who has spent most of 18 years under house arrest in Burma. She and her National League for Democracy (NLD) won about two-thirds of the votes cast in the 1990 election. The military junta allowed none of the elected to take their seats. The UN Special rapporteur on Burma confirmed as a "state-instigated massacre" the attack on her peaceful procession in 2003, northwest of Mandalay, when about 100 people were killed; Suu Kyi was herself wounded. Humble yet extraordinarily determined, she has dedicated herself to the peoples of Burma and chosen to give up her family and freedom. She is now facing years in jail because someone recently swam across a lake and sought refuge in her home? Just two weeks from the end of her house arrest, she faces new charges because an American intruder forced his way into her compound. It resulted in her arrest on charges of breaking her house arrest, and the ailing 63-year-old leader of Burma's democracy movement is now in prison, facing as much as a five-year jail term.

Gao Zhisheng

Another inspiring leader is Gao Zhisheng of Beijing. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, in 2001, he was named one of China's top ten lawyers. He donated a third of his time to victims of human rights violations, representing miners, evicted tenants and others. When, however, he attempted to defend members of the Falun Gong exercise-spiritual community, the party-state of China unleashed its full wrath. This included removing his permit to practise law, an attempt on his life, fifty days of torture, having police attack his wife and 13-year-old daughter and attempting to deny the family any income. In 2006, he was sentenced to three years in prison for "inciting subversion of state power", although international pressure appears to have caused a suspension of the sentence for five years. Predictably, Gao did speak out again and his whereabouts is now unknown to the great concern of many in China and across the world. His wife and two children recently escaped to the United States.

We must remember the struggle of all such courageous, principled leaders. Failure to support them would amount to forfeiting our own beliefs because there must be no geographic boundaries to human dignity and the rule of law.

Nazanin Afshin-Jam

I would like to share with you the story of a Canadian leader, Nazanin Afshin-Jam of Vancouver, who has taken on the totalitarians of Iran in a fearless campaign to stop child executions there. Although she was unsuccessful in preventing the hanging on May 1 of young Delara Darabi, who was no doubt wrongfully convicted of murder at the age of 17, Nazanin has raised world-wide awareness about such unspeakable atrocities and galvanized the support of millions, including lawyers and human rights advocates around the world.

Students Rally Against Racism

One of the challenges youths face in our schools is bullying, often combined with racism. I am encouraged that on April 27, 400 students, wearing black in solidarity and carrying signs of support, walked out of Keswick High School to rally in protest of unfair treatment of a student of origin in Asia following his self-defence against a racist bully in front of their school. In the words of Organizer Mathew Winch, a Grade 12 student, "the school has fewer than ten Asian students, but everyone wanted to stand up against bullying and racism. " Their actions were a strong impetus for authorities to review and eventually withdraw all charges and sanctions.

"Suckers and Duckers"

My mother used to say that the world was made up of essentially two kinds of persons--those who ducked out when the going got tough and those who did not: the suckers who took the punches and roll with them. Her advice, given in those plain words, was useful in almost 27 years as an MP. Other principles I followed are available on my website ( under "Rule of Law/Democracy"; one was "Don't give up if you believe a constituent's cause is just".

MPs are better judges than party whips about issues in their ridings. It is electors who send MPs to Ottawa. In the case of the GST bill, for example, several thousand constituents indicated in various ways their opposition to the proposed new tax. I was then (1990) personally convinced that it was not an efficient way to raise tax revenues. In the end, Dr. Alex Kindy and I voted against the GST bill and were immediately expelled by Brian Mulroney from the parliamentary Conservative caucus. In the ensuing election, only two Conservatives were elected across Canada; I was returned in the same riding as a Liberal. Many years later, I resigned from Paul Martin's Liberal caucus, having lost confidence in his leadership. In short, don't abandon your principles and your voters even if it means leaving a political party-or two.

Leadership is Trust

Sound principles give leaders the ability to maintain the trust, respect and support of stakeholders, whether voters, fellow students, work colleagues, customers or whomever.

Many have blamed the economic turmoil across the world on investment bankers on Wall Street, in London and elsewhere--"captains of greed". I'd add that another major contribution to our present situation was made by leaders, including many political ones, who chose political expediency in encouraging ineffective regulation of financial products sold to the public over responsibility. In "the fierce urgency now," to quote Obama again, we must demand that our leaders and officials demonstrate continuous responsibility.

Here are some suggestions:

Accountability and transparency

The decline of some major organizations, including Nortel, is often linked to a lack of accountability. I believe that leaders should, first and foremost, uphold accountability and transparency-- cornerstones that help to distinguish democracies from other governance models. One effective way of doing this is by setting and enforcing sound policies to protect whistleblowers. Far too often, 'information patriots' risk their careers and jobs in heroic efforts aimed at safeguarding the public interest.

Canadians have a leader with grace, good humour, intelligence and principles in Joanna Gualtieri. As a portfolio manager of Canada's diplomatic properties with the Department of Foreign Affairs in the early 90s, she spoke to senior management about the abuse of the public trust in connection with a number of properties she had inspected abroad. Her work convinced her that mismanagement had cost Canadians very large amounts of money between 1986 and 1998; she did her utmost to have corrective remedies adopted by management. For this, she was ostracized and ultimately sent on leave without pay when she finally went public with her concerns as a whistle blower in mid-1998. More than 10 year later, Joanna is still fighting against a bureaucracy that seems to be more concerned about the implications of admitting to wrongdoing than respecting the overall public interest.

Joanna's story is only one of many courageous Canadian whistleblowers who need the support and protection of leaders. I encourage you to find out more about these individuals and their organizations, FAIR and Canadians for Accountability, among others. You can find links to both these organizations on my website.

Dedication to Service

Obama's background as a community organizer was the subject of both praise and derision during the US presidential campaign. In my opinion, dedication to public service is a trademark of responsible leaders.

There are also numerous examples of leadership and public service in business. I would like to refer to one who particularly inspired me. The late John Poole and his brother were the majority owners of Poole Construction Ltd. (now PCL Construction). When John Poole retired as CEO of the company, the two of them sold their majority stake to the employees rather than accept the highest offer. In the ensuing three decades, John Poole and his wife gave tens of millions of dollars to a host of cultural, educational, social and environmental institutions. When Poole died two years ago, columnist Paula Simons of the Edmonton Journal noted, "( Poole) believed that every (person) owed a duty to his fellow citizens. He understood that living in a city isn't just about occupying space--it's about participating in the life of a community. It's about taking responsibility for the future."

At a time when financial resources are shrinking, our communities will require even more help, particularly for their more vulnerable members. Leaders should set examples for us in giving their time, resources and energies to our communities.

Maintain an inclusive culture

When leaders strive to maximize the wisdom of their communities, their organizations achieve much. The strength of Obama's victory came as a result of the coming together of people of many origins, walks of life, and ages. The inclusive nature of the campaign organization has allowed the new president to avail himself of a network of talented people from which to fill about 7000 positions in his administration. This inclusiveness will allow him to stay close to the American people.

In successful businesses, inclusiveness can take on the form of no special "perks" for senior management only. Nucor Corp., one of the most-admired U.S. organizations, is a good case study. Every employee is a full member of Nucor's team. The "no favourites" philosophy is demonstrated by giving employees the same amount of vacation days and insurance coverage, and no one gets a company vehicle, aircraft or assigned parking spot. The freedom to try new ideas gives Nucor a distinct competitive edge: a creative, get-it-done workforce. As a result, Nucor has been honoured for environmental responsibility, corporate ethics, fairness toward employees, accountability for local community and many other criteria.

Mistakes Leaders Make

I define a leader as someone who does a lot more than the minimum every day and who wants to make a positive difference as often as possible. In the pursuit of principles and vision, however, it is easy to make mistakes. Has Fizel has written an interesting book describing ten errors leaders make and I've certainly made them all. Here are three important ones:

1-Don't display a top-down attitude. "Because I am the boss" is not a successful strategy. Good leaders see themselves at the bottom of an inverted pyramid as servant leaders. Very often, the best of ideas come from people at the very bottom of an organization's structure because the front-line workers have a better knowledge of those they serve.

2-Don't put paperwork before people. For example, some managers object to interruptions, but the late and loved Henri Nouwen highlighted an older professor, who noted: " I have always been complaining that my work was continually interrupted, until I slowly discovered that my interruptions were my work." He also said, "People will never care how much you know until they know how much you care."

3-Don't forget that we all need affirmation, praise, compliments. Good leaders understand the power of the personal touch of kindness. They show respect, provide recognition and spend time with their team.


As our world charters uncertain waters in the face of enormous challenges posed by economic turmoil, racial conflicts and threats of terrorism, more effective efforts are required from all leaders.

More than ever, our nation and our world demand that our leaders set their eyes on interests greater than that of their own, or their political party or organization. More than ever, leaders need to keep their eyes on the long-term vision for a better world of human dignity, equality and rule of law for all.

As young leaders who will no doubt shape the future of this country and our world, I trust that you will use this conference as a milestone on your own leadership journey. I urge you to pursue your journey with vision, principles and an attitude of service. And remember to always stand tall and speak out against injustice of every kind!

Thank you.

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