Two public interest groups have resigned from the federal integrity commissioner’s advisory panel in an act of protest. Democracy Watch and Canadians for Accountability contend that Public Sector Integrity Commissioner Mario Dion is trying to squelch criticism of his agency, which was created to assist and protect federal whistleblowers.
The resignations follow the commissioner’s decision to remove a high-profile critic of his agency from the same advisory panel. “He’s trying to keep criticism of his office behind closed doors,” Tyler Sommers, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, charged Tuesday.
Allan Cutler, the former public servant who helped expose the sponsorship scandal, is president of Canadians for Accountability, a non-profit group dedicated to helping whistleblowers. “We will not be muzzled,” he said.
In his letter of resignation, Cutler told the integrity commissioner he cannot serve on an advisory panel where members are dismissed “on a whim.”
“We will not continue in an environment where we are expected to help cover up mistreatment of whistleblowers by not reporting situations publicly,” Cutler wrote.
Last week, Dion said David Hutton’s constant criticism of his agency had undermined its work and discouraged whistleblowers from coming forward.
Hutton, director of the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR), described the commissioner’s office as a “black hole” into which public service whistleblower allegations too often disappear. His comments appeared in a letter to the editor published in the Citizen.
This week, Dion told Sommers and Cutler that he would not restore FAIR to its position on the advisory committee, a panel he created last spring.
“I believe I have the right to decide on membership just as I did initially in inviting the various organizations,” Dion said. “I am very sorry, but the decision to remove FAIR is final.”
Sommers said the decision raises questions about whether Dion is the right person to lead an organization that’s supposed to be dedicated to open government.
The move, he said, “is in fundamental disagreement with the entire purpose of the office itself, which is unfortunate, and shows perhaps that Mr. Dion is not taking the situation as seriously as he should.”
Integrity commissioner spokeswoman Edith Lachapelle said Dion accepts that he can be criticized publicly.
“It’s really unfortunate that Democracy Watch and Canadians for Accountability have decided to remove themselves from the committee because we valued their input,” Lachapelle said Tuesday.
The advisory committee, she said, was established to initiate a discussion to improve the work of the integrity commissioner. But Hutton, she said, undermined the commissioner’s effectiveness and offered no constructive criticism.
Earlier this month, a Federal Court judge slammed the investigative work done by the commissioner’s office in one whistleblower case. Justice Anne Mactavish said the agency’s probe into the reprisal complaints of public servant Charbel El-Helou lacked both fairness and thoroughness.
In his subsequent letter to the editor, Hutton said the judge’s findings mirrored frustrations shared by more than 30 whistleblowers who have approached FAIR for help.
The Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner was created in 2007 to protect federal whistleblowers from reprisals and to investigate their allegations of wrongdoing. In December 2010, the auditor general issued a scathing report that said former integrity commissioner Christiane Ouimet had done little to help expose corruption and waste.