FAIR website called "the most dangerous in Ottawa"

Kadie O'Malley

Jan 29, 2010

On today's episide of CBC's Power and Politics, the FAIR website was featured and described as "the most dangerous in Ottawa".

Two well-known bloggers, David Eaves and Kady O'Malley, discuss the plight of whistleblowers with host Evan Solomon and how these stories are often overlooked by the mainstream media, leaving it to bloggers and sites like FAIR to give them prominence.

Eaves sees the FAIR website as "dangerous" to wrongdoers because it exposes the lack of protection that still exists for whistleblowers and the severe personal and professional consequences of speaking out. O'Malley agrees, and also argues that publicity can sometimes provide some protection against reprisals, even when the official channels that are supposed to protect them fail to do so.

Richard Colvin's case is cited as an example of someone who adhered strictly to his duty of loyalty to his employer, speaking out only when subpoenaed – yet this does not seem to have protected him from reprisals.

Audio only
Listen to the discussion by clicking on the play button below:

David Eaves' blog
Read David Eaves' original post about FAIR

FAIR's response
Although we agree with much of what was said on this program, we disagree with the way that whistleblowers were characterized during the discussion of Richard Colvin.
Here is FAIR's response.

Transcript of the broadcast
Evan: Speaking of things that don’t hit radar screen often, you know, the whistleblower, you know the notion of whistleblower, people who have a concern which never goes out there. This week Kady there is a website called fairwhistleblower.ca and we are looking at it now. What’s important about this?

Kady: What’s important is that in theory this will give whistleblowers, or people that want to support or find out what is going on as far as whistleblowers in Canadian government. This will give them an opportunity to have a place where they can share their stories – the idea being that if you are going to go public, go as public as possible and hope that the resulting attention, both media and otherwise will give you a protection from retaliation that might not be the case if you were sort of doing it in the dark.

So in that sense the internet has been a remarkable tool or should at least in theory level the playing field a little so that government or corporations or anyone else who might be subject to whistleblowing aren’t as able to exercise retribution without it being found out.

Evan: David you called this on your blog "the most dangerous website in Ottawa". Why?

David: For two reasons. The first is: The current government really ran a campaign on accountability. And this website exposes the fact that there are definitely times, even still today, even after they have passed whistleblower legislation, that public servants sometimes are actually not safe when they step forward when they are protecting the larger public interest. So they are expressing a concern that they have that the taxpayer should be worried about, but maybe their bosses don’t want us to know about. So this site exposes that and gives them an opportunity to voice their opinion.

The second reason is that is sends a really chilling message to public servants. It shows what the personal and professional cost can be if you step forward and show the world that something going on in your vicinity where you work is not going according to the books.

Evan: But how do you deal with the public servant who speak out. I mean, listen..they have an obligation also to the place of their work.

Kady: They do have an obligation and this came up repeatedly during Gomery.. Justice Gomery when he came out with his recommendations one of the things he looked at was if rules are being broken or if laws are being broken, a public servant who wants to report that, who wants to, as they say "blow the whistle" on that, should be able to have protection from future retaliation. And that is something, as David mentioned, this government when they were in opposition really campaigned heavily on.

I don’t think you will find many people out there, or many public servants or many advocates for better whistleblower protection who’d say that they [the government] came anywhere close to doing what they promised.

In fact this sort of chilling climate that you see has in a sense almost gotten worse. There is a real feeling of paranoia within the public service over what would happen if they came forward. It is remarkable if you call departments, departmental spokespeople all have to channel communications through privy council; everything goes straight through the centre. It is a much tighter communications.

We don’t even notice it anymore because it becomes so much a part of everyday life. Last week when Hannah Thibodeau was doing a story about Hill employees who were laid off and were losing all their benefits because of all the prorogation. She was trying to get someone to go on camera. They would not do it because they were worried that if they did – even though there is no rule saying that they could not do it – they would not necessarily be hired back. And that is a feeling that goes straight through the public service.

David: And I think that is why Colvin story was so huge; because it was finally an example of someone who was coming forward and expressing what I think lot of public servants are feeling, which is that the environment just simply isn’t safe any more to speak out.

Evan: But I just want to be careful on Richard Colvin because he is not a whistleblower (Kady adds .. no, he is not a whistleblower). He was called forward by the military police complaints commission and by the committee to testify. So it is different. I am not saying there is not a chilling environment...

Kady: But that should have actually given him more protection because he was subpoenaed to testify. He was subpoenaed under legal process. He should have been able to go forward and say what it is he has to say without any fear of retribution. He is not sticking his neck out…he is just responding and doing his job.

And he is now engaged, I was reading, in an issue of privilege. The government trying to declare certain material that he has privilege on – it is really interesting legal argument. He is not a whistleblower but in sense he should actually had less of a problem than someone who just comes forward