A little-known federal tribunal set up four years ago is finally handling its first case. The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal (PSDPT) was created to help protect public servants from retaliation if they blew the whistle on immoral or illegal activities in government.
But until recently the tribunal, which has had access to more than $9 million in taxpayer money, hadn’t seen a single case. It’s not necessarily because the tribunal, an offshoot of the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner wasn’t ready. It’s that former public sector integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet never referred a single case to it.
Ms. Ouimet, who has been criticized for mishandling her responsibilities as commissioner, received 58 complaints between 2007 and 2010 from public servants who said they had suffered reprisal for reporting wrongdoing in government, according to the office’s annual reports.
Investigations were launched into four files, but the commissioner never found sufficient grounds to pass them on to the tribunal.
Current interim commissioner Mario Dion commissioned an external review of those cases — as well as the more than 200 disclosures of wrongdoing Ms. Ouimet received and dismissed — and is now deciding the next steps for those that were found to be problematic or inaccurate.
The new case the tribunal is looking at involves three men who were all employees at Courts Administration Service in Ottawa. Ms. Ouimet never handled this case, which was referred to the tribunal last month.
According to documents sent from Mr. Dion’s office to the tribunal, Charbel El-Helou was director of client services at Courts Administration Service in March 2009 when he made two disclosures to a senior employee.
Mr. El-Helou alleged that federal employees in his department violated someone’s privacy rights and misappropriated public funds. He also alleged that he was directed to “commit a wrongdoing.”
Two months later the alleged reprisals began. His security clearance — which gave him special access to specific government documents — was withheld, his duties as a supervisor were taken away, his responsibilities were reassigned, a manager solicited information about him from subordinates, and he was subject to ongoing harassment, according to Mr. El-Helou’s complaint, as told by Mr. Dion.
Mr. Dion referred one complaint to the tribunal, with David Power and Eric Delage listed as the respondents.
Lawyers from both sides declined to comment on the case.
“Based on the results of the investigation, I have determined that there are sufficient grounds to warrant an application to the tribunal in relation to the allegation . . . that the complainant’s top secret clearance was withheld from him as a reprisal measure,” Mr. Dion wrote to the tribunal.
Although this case is a landmark in the history of both offices, it may take more than a year-and-a-half before all steps — paperwork, meetings, hearings, deliberations, decision-making and enforcement — are completed and the case is closed, said Lisanne Lacroix, the registrar and deputy head of the tribunal’s office.
The tribunal spent $836,000 in 2008-09, $944,000 the following year and has budgeted $1.83 million every year up to 2012–13, according to its performance reports.