Yesterday an Ottawa-based civil society group, Peace Order and Good Governance (POGG) honoured councillor Brian Skakun from Prince George, B.C. for his courage in blowing the whistle when official channels had failed to protect three female RCMP civilians who were harassed by the police superintendent.
An internal investigation dismissed the women's complaints of harassment. Seeing no other feasible way to expose what had happened, Skakun leaked the report to the media, whereupon he found himself the target of determined efforts to punish and discredit him.
A later inquiry by the RCMP upheld many of the allegations but the women lost their jobs and there were no consequences for the police chief (who was simply ordered to write letters of apology).
As for Skakun, he was prosecuted for violating B.C.'s privacy act – the first such case against a B.C. politician for disclosing confidential information. After a costly trial that lasted for months, with the taxpayer-funded prosecution calling over a dozen witnesses, he was found guilty.
Skakun is still pursuing justice in the courts with an appeal under way, but the public has already delivered its verdict: donations poured into a legal fund established to defend him, and he was subsequently re-elected for a fourth term with an increased vote.
Skakun was clearly thrilled at the award, acknowledging in an interview (see video) that it vindicated not just him, but all the people in Prince George who have supported him.
Organized by POGG with support from Canadians for Accountability, the award ceremony attracted a large turnout of distinguished guests: a who's who of Ottawa-based whistleblowers, lawyers, human rights advocates and like-minded souls.
Guest speaker Col. Michel Drapeau (retired) gave an informative and sometimes moving presentation in which he shared his experience as a whistleblower – including the pain of being shunned by former friends and colleagues, simply for doing his duty.
Timed to coincide with the Golden Whistle award, Readers Digest published a six-page feature about whistleblowers, written by Chris Guly. This profiles several whistleblowers – Brian Skakun; Health Canada scientists Shiv Chopra, Margaret Haydon and Gerard Lambert; diplomat Richard Colvin; Foreign Affairs lawyer Joanna Gualtieri; and Allan Cutler.
With a readership of about 5 million Canadians, this article will alert many ordinary Canadians to the sorry state of whistleblower protection in Canada – which is very timely as the five-year review of the federal legislation is due to begin within weeks.
With this fine article and this award to a courageous truth-teller, this was a very good day for Canadian whistleblowers.