It was reported in the media last week that a convicted murderer has been awarded $6,000 for suffering endured when jailers failed to replace his worn-out athletic shoes.
It is bizarre that a convicted criminal has the right to sue the government for mistreatment, but honest public servants do not. They lost this right in 2003, when the government quietly introduced section 236 of the Public Service Modernization Act.
The government did this after losing on appeal to the Foreign Affairs Department whistleblower, Joanna Gualtieri, who sued her bosses for harassment: the court upheld her right to sue. Rather than appeal to the Supreme Court (and probably lose again) the government simply changed the law.
To complete the charade, the government also passed legislation that supposedly protects people like Ms. Gualtieri – but in practice does more to protect the alleged wrongdoers. More than one in four federal public servants report that they have been subject to harassment. Yet the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (who is responsible for protecting government whistleblowers) has never discovered a single case of reprisal against an employee.
The final irony is that a convicted murderer’s grievance may have opened up a new avenue of redress for those abused by the authorities: he used the legal argument of ‘malfeasance in office’, described as “an old and rarely successful type of civil action against government officials for intentional abuse of power”.
Will this latest precedent finally enable honest public servants to protect themselves? Don’t hold your breath: Ms Gualtieri's case is now in its twelfth year with no end in sight.
Executive Director, FAIR
The Honourable David Kilgour
former Secretary of State