Evidence of meeting #81 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was whistle-blowers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Mark Worth  Manager, Blueprint for Free Speech, As an Individual
John Devitt  Chief Executive, Transparency International Ireland, As an Individual
Tom Devine  Legal Director, Government Accountability Project, As an Individual
Duff Conacher  Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

Mr. Conacher.

9:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I mentioned some statistics from the past where we have about 150 complaints that have still not been fully addressed. Then you heard some more recent statistics from Mr. Worth, and that's why, again, I strongly recommend that there has to be an independent audit of the whole system.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

Yasmin Ratansi Liberal Don Valley East, ON

My question is whether it's men, women, or financial officers because if it's financially driven or environmentally driven, knowing that would help us as well.

9:55 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I don't think we know the full picture in Canada because the reporting has been so bad in the past. There has been straight-up negligence on dealing with complaints, so we don't even know fully the picture of what's happened here. That's why we need it. We had one audit by the Auditor General. We need that to be required to be a regular audit of the entire system at least every three years so that the commissioner can't hide what's going on in the commissioner's office as well. The commissioner needs to be accountable also.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

I'm afraid we're out of time on that round.

Mr. McCauley, we have five minutes for you.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Great.

Hello again, gentlemen.

Professor Brown yesterday spoke to us, noting that mandatory reporting is a necessary part of good disclosure legislation. That's something we don't have here. I'm just wondering, Mr. Worth, starting with you, because it goes to my last question about our internal process. Do you agree that the mandatory reporting of whistle-blower cases from the internal disclosure officer to the external oversight body is necessary?

9:55 a.m.

Manager, Blueprint for Free Speech, As an Individual

Mark Worth

It is absolutely essential.

Actually, you do have some data on your website about the number of disclosures and reprisal complaints and so forth. What's helpful—and John pointed this out in Ireland—is the reason that reprisal complaints were denied or disclosures were ignored, the reasons that the people did not get compensated, the reasons that they did not get whistle-blower protection. This can help to expose holes and gaps in the protection system. I think that your data, which you have on your website, in your annual report, which is very good, needs to include more specific details, of course, without revealing any information about the whistle-blowers.

What actually happened to the disclosure? Was it investigated? We see many countries in eastern Europe and Latin America where we had this many disclosures, which led to x, y, z number of prosecutions and convictions, investigations, tracked all the way down the line. It was the same with reprisal complaints. How many were accepted? How long did it take? How many were denied? What was the reason? You need to get more information as to the outcomes of the disclosures and the retaliation complaints. It should all be made public every year and in a very easy-to-digest fashion, and we're seeing more of that. This has been a big development all over the world, more transparency in the entire whistle-blower system.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

What about in a case-by-case example? Someone comes forward. Right now it just sits there. All we hear is that once a year we get a report, “Hey, thanks”. What about on a case-by-case basis, if for every single one that comes up, that information goes to the external body at the same time, so that, again, it doesn't just get lost in the department? From what our witnesses have seen, and what we've seen, actually, from the government people we spoke to, the habit is to try to keep it within the department and not really it follow up as aggressively as it should be.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Do you want to address your question?

10 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

I'd ask Mr. Worth.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Mr. Worth, can you hear us?

10 a.m.

Manager, Blueprint for Free Speech, As an Individual

10 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

The question I had was this. We talk about it once a year; that's what our internal policy is. Once a year we get a report and there's no real follow-up on it from the powers that be within, say, Treasury Board or other departments. What about a disclosure for every single case as it comes up? It gets reported immediately to the external body as well as the internal body.

10 a.m.

Manager, Blueprint for Free Speech, As an Individual

Mark Worth

Is that question for me?

10 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Sure.

10 a.m.

Manager, Blueprint for Free Speech, As an Individual

Mark Worth

I think you can ask Tom. I know that in the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, issues press releases when a worker is retaliated against and is reinstated, and on how much back pay the person gets. These press releases are very detailed. Maybe you can ask Tom about how that system works, whether they release all the cases or just the major cases.

Of course, in the United States the Securities and Exchange Commission and the IRS release case information as it comes available. The Department of Justice releases case information. It's incredibly useful to get that information out there. It has the effect of showing the whistle-blower that the system works.

I was in Brazil a couple of years ago and they told a story about a whistle-blower case that led to a conviction. Another person saw that, and the next day he or she blew the whistle on another case because they had confidence that the system was actually working. Transparency can build trust and confidence in the system among the public in general.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Thank you, Mr. Worth.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

You have about 30 seconds.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

With just 30 seconds, Mr. Conacher, maybe you can explain. We see how the U.S. has a reward system for whistle-blowers. Do you see something like that working in Canada? Do you recommend that?

10 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

I think it's essential because—

10 a.m.

Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Would you see it across all whistle-blowing or just for securities issues?

10 a.m.

Co-Founder, Democracy Watch

Duff Conacher

No, all whistle-blowing. The OSC has set the precedent in Canada. I think it's essential because many people, even if the retaliation doesn't happen, are in some ways uncomfortable staying in their position. They want to make a transition. The reward should be, within government, priority in moving into another institution within government, and also compensation in lieu of that. It would be the same in the business sector and private sector.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Tom Lukiwski

Thank you very much.

Monsieur Drouin.

April 4th, 2017 / 10 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Drouin Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the witnesses for once again being in front of us.

My first question will be for Mr. Devine, but others can feel free to jump in. It's just with regard to the November 25 paper that you wrote. We have heard from witnesses that once a whistle-blower choses to come forward, the organization or the department in Canada tends to go into defence mode as opposed to embracing whether the disclosure has merit. Often what this will involve is that the employees the whistle-blower works with, their colleagues, won't talk to them anymore. They won't engage with them and they won't help them. That has to do with what you've mentioned with regard to the spillover retaliation.

How do you recommend that we improve that culture with regard to the spillover retaliation? We've been hearing from witnesses that they're afraid that, rather than having their colleagues' support, they will get isolated within their own department. How do you improve that?

10:05 a.m.

Legal Director, Government Accountability Project, As an Individual

Tom Devine

The first thing is to make sure that the law protects all the people in the village that you want to and be working with the whistle-blower to prevent isolation. That's the primary requirement, which means that people who are mistakenly perceived to be whistle-blowers, people who assist the whistle-blower, and people who are providing supporting evidence be protected as well.

The second thing is leadership. So much of the problem with whistle-blowing is that it's perceived as disloyalty to the organization, and therefore, the dissent is a threat to the jobs, welfare, and careers of colleagues and co-workers. Most whistle-blowers, though, are acting in defence of the organization because they're afraid that the abuse of power is going to backfire and hurt everyone.

When a leader establishes an environment through communicating that he or she wants to know these problems before they get worse, that we can't fix these things or prevent disasters if we're blindsided, and let's have a free flow of information so that we can do the right thing and operate most effectively, when that sinks down and the labour force believes it, it is the right environment to be challenging the isolation that's fatal to whistle-blowers. This idea of having an internal office can be one of the critical front lines for that. The internal officer can be very dangerous. It can be a trap. It can be somebody who is basically just gathering information and has a conflict of interest, and then the disclosures to that person will spark retaliation and cover-up before it gets to an objective audience. However, that officer also can be an invaluable resource for the people. It needs to be structured effectively.

A question was asked earlier about how to do that. I would refer you folks to the criteria for the International Ombudsman Association because these internal agency officers are very similar. The two most significant functions of that are, first, that they have direct access to the organizational leadership—if they're not buried within a bureaucracy, it takes away the potential for plausible deniability—and second, that all communications to them and by them are automatically protected activity under the whistle-blower law because that can be an extremely dangerous job.