Today FAIR sent the following offer of assistance to members of the two House committees that share the responsibility for follow-up after the Auditor General's scathing report on the conduct of the former Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, Mme. Christiane Ouimet.
Subject: Whistleblower protection – FAIR offers expert assistance
To: Members of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, and the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates
I am writing to offer you our assistance in uncovering (and understanding) what went wrong with Canada's failed whistleblower protection legislation, and in developing a way forward that is both practical and principled.
FAIR is Canada's longest-established whistleblower NGO and the most authoritative independent source of information and expertise about Canadian whistleblower legislation. Founded in 1998, FAIR has been called to give testimony to House and Senate committees on past legislation including the PSDPA, has drafted private members bills, and has kept the subject in the public eye for more than a decade through public speaking, articles, and TV interviews and documentaries. We believe that our organization has significantly more expertise in this field than the government, and a lot of credibility with the Canadian people.
We collaborate actively with like-minded organizations such as Democracy Watch, Canadians for Accountability. Most significantly, for over a decade FAIR has benefited from a close working relationship with GAP – The Government Accountability Project, in Washington, DC – which is the world leader in whistleblower rights. Our founder, Joanna Gualtieri, who stepped down from FAIR two years ago, is the Chair of GAP's Board of Directors.
For over thirty years, GAP has been sought out by Senators and Congressmen for its expertise in drafting key US legislation including the landmark Whistleblower Protection Act and Sarbanes-Oxley, which was introduced following the Enron scandal to combat corporate corruption. This approach is a model of cooperation that we would like to adopt in Canada.
The complete failure of the recently-created PSDPA legislation (as predicted by FAIR), the egregious misconduct of the hand-picked Commissioner, and the failures of oversight that allowed this to continue for more than three years have created a crisis of accountability which cannot be ignored. It is imperative now to focus parliamentary attention on this important issue and to get the legislation right after 17 years of posturing and inaction.
At present Canada is not a safe place for honest employees -- neither in the public service nor in the corporate world -- and there is no safe haven for them. Yet protecting honest employees from corrupt bosses and empowering them to expose misconduct is fundamental to the integrity of our democracy and our society.
FAIR stands ready to assist in the following ways:
- to meet with committee members, individually or in groups, to brief them and help them understand the issues
- to provide public testimony to committees
- to propose other suitable witnesses. We have already drawn up a list of individuals with special expertise, information or insights, that we believe should be called, as well as lists of questions for certain witnesses
- to put forward proposals regarding the three key tasks that now need to be executed: selecting a competent Commissioner; re-writing the law; and revisiting the three-year backlog of cases that were not given due process.
FAIR is strictly non-partisan. We have challenged all political parties for failing to make adequate efforts to protect honest public servants and for giving them little more than "paper shields" to defend themselves against vicious reprisals. We have also tried to explain how experience has shown that empowering honest employees to speak out actually protects ministers-- by enabling them to learning about wrongdoing and to nip it in the bud before it erupts into fully fledged scandal. When honest employees are silenced, ministers (and oversight committees) are blindsided and lose control. Ironically, this is in part what happened at OPSIC.
If you wish to accept our offer of assistance, it would be helpful if you would identify for us who will be the 'point person' for your committee and for your caucus that we should coordinate with. We are confident that by working together, we can implement meaningful reforms and protection for our public service whistleblowers that are long overdue.
I look forward to hearing from you and for the opportunity to work collaboratively on this important mission.