Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for inviting me here today as part of the committee's important legislative review of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act.
As you may know, this act is an important part of the Government of Canada's integrity framework and we take it quite seriously. We feel that integrity is the cornerstone of good governance and democracy. By upholding the highest ethical standards, public servants safeguard and enhance public confidence in the honesty, fairness, and impartiality of the federal public sector.
To this end, the act sets out the measures to promote an ethical climate. It establishes the foundation to promote a culture of right-doing and a positive ethical climate through measures such as the creation of the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, which applies to some crown corporations, separate agencies, and the core public administration. The code, along with the organizational codes of conduct, describe for public servants at all levels the values and ethical practices that guide direction, decision-making, and behaviour across the public sector.
The act also encourages employees in the public sector to come forward if they have reason to believe that serious wrongdoing has taken place, and it provides protections for employees against reprisal when they do so.
The act therefore addresses issues that are both complicated and highly sensitive in nature, with the result that the legislation itself is complex.
That said, I would welcome any proposals your committee might make to simplify this legislation.
To date, I've read the testimony. I know your committee has heard testimony from a very diverse group of witnesses and I think you should be commended for considering such a wide variety of perspectives.
The challenge before your committee as it weighs the evidence is a very important one, and I'm very much looking forward to your committee's recommendations for improving the legislation and how it functions. I recognize that there are areas where the act could be improved. It has been in place now for almost 10 years. It is to be expected that, during this time, issues in its administration, the mechanics of its procedures, or in the scope of what the legislation covers would become evident and I think you've found a few.
For example, it has become apparent that it is important to protect not just the discloser, but others who may be associated with the case, even if that association is mistaken.
Mr. Chair, I also agree that the legislation should make it as easy as possible for someone to come forward and to be protected when they do.
Options might include simpler and more direct access to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal, or the implementation of a reverse onus for the employer to prove that no reprisal has taken place.
It is worth noting that several witnesses have also echoed the importance of having different disclosure channels available. Several technical recommendations have also been brought forward by the stakeholders you've heard from to address some of the specific areas of the act as it now stands.
Another issue to be considered is whether there is sufficient direction in the legislation around the investigation process for internal disclosures and perhaps how these investigations might be appropriately related to the disciplinary investigations of individual wrongdoers.
I think this legislative review also represents an opportunity for clarification of the interplay between this act and other legislation, such as the Privacy Act and the Access to Information Act. It would also be useful for the committee to consider these matters with a view to balancing the protection of the discloser with the rights of the accused.
I've also followed with interest the testimony of witnesses from several international jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction's regime has its strengths and weaknesses. I would certainly welcome your advice on how to apply the many lessons learned in these other jurisdictions to find solutions that will work in the Canadian context.
For example, I believe further efforts are required to raise awareness of the act and the system currently in place.
This includes an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of employees, supervisors and deputy heads, and of the resources available to employees should they wish to disclose a wrongdoing.
These include the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and the organization's designated senior officer for disclosure.
Mr. Chair, the Government of Canada is committed to promoting a positive and respectful public sector culture that is grounded in values and ethics. As I said in my introduction, I believe that a well-functioning disclosure regime plays a very vital role in such a culture.
For my part, I very much look forward to your recommendations for ways to improve this important piece of legislation and I will take it very seriously.