Whistleblowing

We have been thinking of the Town employee who blew the whistle on the CAO in  the Victoria County Municipal office in Baddeck. She  was lucky
in the CAO’s reaction which was to confess; she might have been fired, or worse sidelined and harassed on the job.

Whistle-blowers are employees who exercise freedom of expression rights to challenge institutional abuses of power or illegality that …
threaten the public interest. They represent the highest ideals of
public service … Studies have demonstrated that whistle-blowers are not the malcontents their detractors allege, but are, in fact, the employees an organization would want ‚Äî bright, qualified and loyal. As US Defense whistle-blower Ernie Fitzgerald put it, their only crime is that of “committing the truth.”

That description is from an article written by Joanna Gualtieri who was a whistle-blower in the Can. Department of Foreign Affairs as portfolio manager for Latin America. She exposed billions of public dollars, spent against government rules, to maintain lavish diplomatic lifestyles. What happened to her and others is disheartening. As she says:

Rather than being acknowledged for their contributions, too often
whistle-blowers face harassment, intimidation, demotion, deployment,
dismissal, blacklisting, humiliation and the complete paralysis of
their career. Polls reveal …one in five workers reporting being the victim of harassment while workplace stress has been cited for wreaking havoc on productivity and profit margins.

We can’t imagine our Town officials stooping to that kind of behavior can we? They who greet us with a smile at the Farmers market and sit in the next pew at church?

Since the Enron and WorldCom scandals in the US and the Walkerton
and Sponsorship scandals in Canada ( whistle-blower Allan Cutler was instrumental there), the climate toward whistleblowing is changing for the better. In March, 2004 Paul Martin’s government introduced Bill C-25 ‚Äî the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act intended to protect people who speak out about problems in the government’s bureaucracy. The proposed legislation said that it is “part of the government’s broader commitment to ensure transparency, accountability, financial responsibility and ethical conduct.”
Unfortunately it died with the subsequent election call. At least there is now a  Public Service Integrity Office.

Also there is An Act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal liability of organizations) (Bill C-45) passed in 2003.

This Act  establishes a legal duty under the Criminal Code
for all persons directing work to take reasonable steps to ensure the
safety of workers and the public, and has set rules for attributing to
organizations, including corporations, criminal liability for the acts
of their representatives.
(emphasis ours) These amendments to the Criminal Code came into force in March, 2004.

The Act updates the law on corporate criminal liability to make
corporations criminally liable for the actions of employees including:

  • when officers with executive or operational authority intentionally
    commit, or direct employees to commit, crimes to benefit the
    organization;
  • when officers with executive or operational authority become aware of offences being committed by other employees, but do not take action to stop them; and
  • when the actions of those with authority and other employees, taken as a whole, demonstrate a lack of care that constitutes criminal negligence.

In the new legislation, the term “organization” is used rather than
“corporation.”  “Organization” includes “a public body”…

So a Town could be on the hook for the misdeeds of its employees, making the Mayor and Town Council’s role responsible indeed.


Besides legislation there are other factors that may lead to more accountability. As Gaultieri points out:

With the expansion of worldwide communications through the Internet, it will be increasingly difficult for bosses to maintain the secrecy gap
in which corruption flourishes.
With the increasing vigilance being
exercised by regulators, auditors, lawyers and boards of directors, the
requirement to establish a legitimate framework that provides safe
channels for good faith disclosure of information that threatens the
public interest
and the organization will be a minimum requirement. (
emphasis ours)

“sunlight is the best disinfectant” -Chief Justice Brandeis



WHISTLE-BLOWER BILL OF RIGHTS*

  • The
    right to communicate within the profession, on the job and with
    colleagues. This basic principle, if respected, would prevent the need
    for whistle-blowing.

     

  • The
    right to be part of an institution whose leadership makes integrity the
    cornerstone of professional expectations. Unless matched by deeds,
    rhetorical commitments in speeches and memoranda can foster cynicism
    and be counterproductive.

     

  • The
    right to due process. Those who witness wrongdoing and allege reprisal
    must have a fair hearing to defend themselves against harassment.

     

  • The
    right to information. Sufficient information should be available on the
    record for whistle-blower quality control to permit responsible dissent
    while also holding accountable those who make false reports.

     

  • The
    right to make a difference by submitting misconduct concerns for review
    to an independent forum that is free from conflict of interest.

     

  • The right to an expedited, timely decision when exercising legal rights.

     

  • The right to interim relief while legal proceedings run their course.

     

  • The right to sanctions against those who retaliate.

     

  • The right to be “made whole” through relief for the tangible and intangible wounds of retaliation.

     

  • The right to vindication. This permits public recognition for those who make significant contributions to integrity.

     

*
This bill of rights was drafted by Tom Devine, legal director with the
Government Accountability Project, the world’s preemin
ent
whistle-blower protection organization based in Washington, DC

There are several websites for whistleblowers listed here.

Advertisements

Comments are closed.