Mario Dion, the Prime Minister’s choice for Public Sector Integrity Commissioner will testify before a parliamentary committee on Tuesday. This will be almost the final step in installing a whistleblower watchdog who has demonstrated over the past year that he can be equally ineffective as his disgraced predecessor.
FAIR is calling for proper scrutiny of this appointment before any decisions are made by Parliament. There are many serious questions that must answered before any decision is made: here are 10 for starters.
1) Why did Prime Minister Harper fail to consult with opposition leaders before making his choice?
Besides being common courtesy in the appointment of an officer of Parliament, such consultation is required by the law that created this position (see subsection 39(1) of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act).
2) Why did Dion decide to apply for this job after saying it would be a conflict of interest to do so?
Mr. Dion told several people in a face-to-face meeting (including David Hutton of FAIR, Allan Cutler of Canadians for Accountability, and Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch) that he was not going to apply for the full-time Integrity Commissioner position because he did not want to have the conflict of interest while he was Interim Commissioner – of trying to please the Prime Minister and Cabinet so they would appoint him as full-time Commissioner. We agreed.
Why is this conflict of interest suddenly no longer an issue when Mr. Dion’s performance over the past year indeed seems designed to please the PM?
3) Why were suitable outsiders not approached or given proper consideration?
Duff Conacher, who applied and was told that he met all of the published requirements, was not interviewed by PCO. Andre Marin, the Ontario Ombudsman who has a stellar track record of holding the provincial government accountable was never even approached. The headhunter who was contracted to perform the search has refused to any answer questions about the process.
Also, why did the government not seek out someone who has a track record of defending whistleblowers? This is what the US Government did recently, appointing Carolyn Lerner, a career human rights lawyer, to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) – the equivalent position in the USA. With the appointment of Mario Dion our government is going in exactly the opposite direction.
4) How can Dion explain the almost complete lack of results from his office?
Dion’s track record is in some ways even worse than his predecessor. While Christiane Ouimet found zero cases of wrongdoing in her 3½ years, Dion has found zero cases of wrongdoing in 4½ years (he re-examined all of the cases closed by Ouimet, plus those received during the past 12 months). During this time the federal government has spent over $1 trillion – are we supposed to believe that not a cent been misappropriated or misused?
5) Why did Dion promote to be his deputy the individual most closely associated with disgraced former Integrity Commissioner Ouimet?
Joe Friday served as Ouimet’s senior legal counsel during most of the time she was closing files improperly, abusing her staff, and taking reprisals against former staff – but he claimed to be unaware of any misconduct in this tiny 20-person office. How will this appointment encourage would-be whistleblowers to trust this agency? What does this appointment say about Dion’s judgment and priorities?
6) How close are Dion’s relationships with the top bureaucrats?
We believe that Dion has long-standing personal and/or professional relationships with a great many of the senior people whose departments he is supposed to be investigating and is on first-name terms with many, up to and including Wayne Wouters, the head of the public service.
Within weeks of his appointment, Dion secretly and inappropriately warned Wouters of a wrongful dismissal lawsuit that had been filed against the Integrity Commissioner's office, because Wouters was named in the lawsuit. In other words, Dion disclosed to the Clerk of the PCO details of a whistleblower's complaint.
FAIR has received numerous reliable reports of PSIC staff (including Dion) indicating to whistleblowers that they are on first-name terms with the alleged wrongdoer. This behaviour is devastating to whistleblowers and destroys any trust that they might have in the impartiality of this agency. This behaviour also seems to reflect the reality of a pervasive, cosy relationship with the bureaucracy.
In another recent case where a DM is the subject of allegations of wrongdoing – and where PSIC appears to be dragging its feet – PSIC staff told the whistleblower that Dion has worked in the past with the DM in question.
7) Why do Dion’s investigators seem uninterested in obtaining corroborative evidence and testimony?
This is a behaviour that was frequently reported to us during Ouimet’s tenure – yet it continues with new investigators hired by Dion, including the above-mentioned case where Dion has apparently worked previously with the alleged wrongdoer. Investigators seem more interested in finding ways to dismiss allegations than in finding evidence that might corroborate them.
8) Why has civil society been shut out of the appointments process?
The Government Operations committee has not called anyone else to testify besides Dion – just as they did when Ouimet testified and claimed to be doing a great job. Civil society organizations such as FAIR, Canadians for Accountability and Democracy Watch, who have information that can shed light on Dion’s performance, are being simply ignored.
Also, why has the leading civil society authority on PSIC been denied the opportunity to testify for five years?
FAIR is internationally recognized as the leading independent Canadian authority on whistleblower law, and has been the primary civil society force in bringing about whistleblower legislation in Canada. Yet FAIR has not been called to give testimony on this subject since the legislation was passed five years ago.
Parliamentarians continued to ignore our repeated calls to testify as PSIC fell apart under Ouimet and hundreds of whistleblowers were betrayed and their lives ruined. They asked Ouimet no tough questions in committee, and allowed her to continue to wreak havoc for more than 3 years – because without independent testimony they had no clue what was going on.
9) How does Dion’s background as an ADM with Justice Department qualify him to protect whistleblowers?
The Justice Department has a fearsome, well-earned reputation as the scourge of whistleblowers. Whenever there are legal or quasi-legal actions involving whistleblowers, Justice Department lawyers are there in force, using the most ruthless and unprincipled methods to defend alleged wrongdoers and to crush and punish whistleblowers. The tactics used against Joanna Gualtieri illustrate their approach: forcing her to answer more than 10,500 questions during pre-trial discoveries, abusing the legal process to drag out her case for 12 years, and then settling on the courthouse steps with a gag order – thus demonstrating that they never had a case.
How can a former senior member of this in-house law firm, whose sole function is to protect the government of the day, be qualified to ‘change sides’ and start investigating the government?
10) Why is Dion unwilling to allow his Advisory Committee to discuss problems with the law that he administers?
FAIR has produced a rigorous, meticulously-researched analysis setting out more than two dozen flaws in the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. PSIC staff have seen this and have been unable to find any factual errors, and PSIC is required to submit its own analysis of the legislation for the upcoming 5-year review. Yet Dion refused to allow our report to be presented to the Committee at an official meeting – we had to find an alternative, non-government venue and hold a separate meeting.
What you can do
1) Contact committee members
If you have views about this appointment you should contact the members of the Government Operations Committee today. Tomorrow may be too late – the committee meets Tuesday afternoon. You can send an email to all members of the committee in one click by using the link on this web page.
MPs will be especially interested in the experiences of whistleblowers who have had dealings with Mr. Dion or his staff during the past year.
2) Attend the meeting or watch it live
The meeting will take place in Room 237-C, Centre Block, on Tuesday December 13, from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm.
A substantial group of whistleblowers attended Christiane Ouimet’s testimony last February, including well-known faces such as Joanna Gualtieri, Allan Cutler and Shiv Chopra. This meeting is of much greater importance, since it determines who will be responsible for protecting whistleblowers for the next seven years. You can watch the meeting live on the government webcast page.
3) Contact committee members and the media
After the meeting, we will be giving our reactions to the media that are present. You can also express your views to members of the committee using the link on this web page.