Canada's public sector integrity commissioner says she reaches out to public sector employees

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"I would like to shed more light on the protections offered under the current law, and the multiple avenues that are available to people who have concerns..."

By Christiane Ouimet
Hill Times: October 13th, 2008

RE: "Whistleblower legislation might have prevented listeriosis outbreak, say activists," (The Hill Times, Oct. 6, p. 10). Writers Michele Brill-Edwards, Brian McAdam and David Hutton, who represent the organization "FAIR," discuss the role of whistleblower protection in preventing threats to health and safety of Canadians.

Individually and collectively, we all want our public institutions to succeed. As the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, I agree that members of the public and private sectors can improve the way government works and prevent major problems by coming forward when they have concerns about serious wrongdoing in the workplace. I would like to shed more light on the protections offered under the current law, and the multiple avenues that are available to people who have concerns.

Under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, both public sector employees and members of the public can come to my office in confidence if they believe there has been serious wrongdoing in the federal public sector. We carefully analyze information provided to us to determine whether an investigation is warranted. As commissioner, I have significant investigative powers, including the power to issue subpoenas, to enter workplaces and to see documents.

The act also prohibits any employer from taking reprisals against an employee for coming forward or for participating in an investigation in good faith. This applies not only to employees in the public sector but also to those in the private sector.

One of the most important protections we offer to whistleblowers is confidentiality. We protect the identity of the person coming forward to the full extent of the law, whether they come from inside or outside of government. Our investigation files are not subject to the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act, meaning that they will never be released under those acts—not now, and not in 100 years.

We insist on confidentiality so as to help protect people who come forward, and people who participate in investigations, from any kind of reprisal. As well, if public sector employees believe they have been victims of reprisal, we can investigate and can refer the matter to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal to assess whether a reprisal was taken, and, if so, what remedy to grant.

My office exists to investigate serious cases of wrongdoing that may adversely affect the public interest. Whenever wrongdoing is found, I will make a report to Parliament laying out the facts of the wrongdoing, while still maintaining the confidentiality of the people involved in the investigation.

It is important to note that we are just one of many avenues that may exist to help public sector employees who have concerns about their workplace. Our work complements that of the auditor general, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Public Service Labour Relations Board, the Public Service Commission, and many other oversight bodies that can help address problems from different perspectives.

As well, each department is required to have its own internal disclosure regime, so that employees can raise concerns within their organizations either directly to their supervisors or to the senior officers who are designated to receive their disclosures. Although not all matters that come to our office actually fall under our jurisdiction, we always try to help the people who come to us identify the appropriate venue to resolve their concerns.

My office continues to reach out to public sector employees, members of the public and advocacy groups (including FAIR) to make sure they know about the services and protections we can offer and to identify ways we can work together. I strongly believe that building trust together is the best way to make sure we have a disclosure regime that works. I encourage your readers to visit our web site at www.psic-ispc.gc.ca to learn more about our office or to call us if they have any questions.

Christiane Ouimet

Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, Ottawa, Ont.

 

Copyright Hill Times 2008