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Federal whistleblower agency’s first report of wrongdoing is a small step forward -- misconduct was exposed but those responsible seem to have had a soft landing

5-year review must lead to key changes very soon

Thursday, March 8, 2012

OTTAWA—Today civil society organizations responded to the first ruling on a whistleblower's report of a case of wrongdoing reported to Parliament by Integrity Commissioner Mario Dion.

Since it was created in 2007 the Office of the Public Sector 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 (news release link, to see backgrounder click here, and to see full report click here) 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.”

Tyler Sommers 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."

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Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch and Chairperson of the Open Government Coalition
Tel: (613) 241-5179

David Hutton, Executive Director, FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform)
Tel: (613) 567-1511

Allan Cutler, President, Canadians for Accountability
Tel: (613) 863-4671
Ian Bron, Managing Director, Canadians for Accountability
Tel: (613) 304-8049

To see
two other key news releases about this issue, click here and click here

To see the December 2010 report on former disgraced Integrity Commissioner Christiane Ouimet by Auditor General Sheila Fraser, click here.

To see why a full audit is still needed of past cases that Ouimet failed to investigate properly, click here.

To see the list of needed reforms to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, click here.

NOTE: FAIR and the Government Ethics Coalition call on federal parties to penalize Ouimet for her misconduct and claw back her obscene, undeserved $500,000 severance payoff (NOTE: The alliance has demanded that the payoff be cancelled and has also requested that the Auditor General audit the payoff and all other similar recent payoffs by the federal government).

Democracy Watch's Open Government Campaign page and Government Ethics Campaign page



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