OTTAWA—Today civil society organizations responded to the first case of wrongdoing reported to Parliament by Integrity Commissioner Mario Dion.
Since it was created in 2007 the Office of the Public Service Integrity Commissioner (PSIC) has received more than 300 disclosures and is currently investigating 18 of these, but has not reported any wrongdoing until now. FAIR, Democracy Watch and the Government Ethics Coalition, and Canadians for Accountability expressed cautious optimism regarding today’s report, tempered by some major concerns.
"This seems a workmanlike investigation and report, but to me the most striking shortcoming is the failure to sanction or even name those responsible” said David Hutton of FAIR. “This seems yet another case of the wrongdoers getting a soft landing. Without real consequences, there’s nothing to deter other wrongdoers, which is the whole purpose of this agency.”
Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch added “The Manager should be prosecuted for violating the Financial Administration Act and the Chief Executive should be reprimanded for failing to have effective systems in place to prevent and detect such misconduct. Also, both should be named: there is nothing in the Privacy Act that prevents this disclosure and the public has a clear right to know.”
“This report, while promising, fails to send a strong enough message because it still leaves responsible individuals in place and unsanctioned” said Ian Bron of Canadians for Accountability.
There is also concern that Dion has refused to investigate other, far more serious disclosures, such as allegations that the government pressured Health Canada employees to approve veterinary drugs without the legally-required proof of human safety.
As to whether this first report signals that PSIC could become more effective as a watchdog, the groups say it is too early to judge. “This agency has been comatose for five years” said David Hutton. “We need a few more heartbeats before we conclude that it has a pulse. Mr. Dion should be regularly exposing the types of serious misconduct that public servants report to us all the time. That’s his job. And he should be demanding strong sanctions.”
A big part of the problem, the groups say, has been that the law is very weak, allowing the commissioner to turn away most whistleblowers, and providing only the illusion of protection for those who suffer reprisals. FAIR has conducted an analysis which reveals more than two dozen shortcomings and the groups are calling for major changes to the legislation, which is subject to a five-year review this year. Democracy Watch has also published a short list of key improvements needed.
The case report, although commendably fulsome, leaves some important questions unanswered, particularly the names of the individual involved and the Chief Executive, and the sanctions applied. There is also no information regarding the status and well-being of the whistleblower, as well as other employees who cooperated in the investigation.
It would be helpful to know about:
• Any changes in his/her employment status
• Whether he/she has reported any adverse actions, either formally or informally
• Whether a formal complaint of reprisals has been lodged, and if so when
• What action has been taken following any complaint of reprisal and what is the current status.
Without further information it seems unlikely that this report will do much to repair PSIC’s reputation and build trust among public servants. As one participant in a recent focus group survey commissioned by PSIC said: "Show me that these stories have happy endings. Show me the discloser who got a promotion and the wrongdoer who lost his job."
Allan Cutler observed "This case does not seem to demonstrate the 'happy ending' that honest government employees are looking for."
See FAIR’s analysis of shortcomings in the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act: http://fairwhistleblower.ca/psdpa/psdpa_critique.html
See PSIC-commissioned perceptions report:
See Democracy Watch list of improvements required to PSDPA:
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David Hutton, Executive Director, FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform) (613) 567-1511
Allan Cutler, President, Canadians for Accountability: (613) 863-4671
Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chair of the Open Government Coalition: (613) 241-5179