Letter from Canada: a progress report

David Hutton of the Centre for Free Expression’s Whistleblowing Initiative (CFEWI) offers an expert insight into the current state of affairs of whistleblowing in Canada. The good news? Civil society is taking action. The bad news? The Canadian government has failed to reform a broken system leaving the country and its people vulnerable to unnecessary damage and harm by failing to protect those who speak up about wrongdoing.

This time last year Canadian whistleblowing advocates were celebrating a breakthrough: the long-delayed review of our deeply-flawed federal whistleblowing system had just been completed by a Parliamentary committee, whose unanimous report recommended sweeping reforms. This event was indeed worth celebrating, since there had been no progress in 11 years. For more than a decade the doors of Parliament were closed to us: we were not even permitted to testify when successive Integrity Commissioners submitted their annual reports to committee. Suddenly these doors opened briefly and we were able to explain to parliamentarians the dire plight of whistleblowers under this system, and arrange for colleagues from the UK, Ireland and the USA to provide their perspectives. We were thrilled with the committee’s report.

Predictably, the government gave the committee’s report the brush-off – none of the recommendations have been adopted. So we still have a non-functioning whistleblowing system for our federal public servants. On the bright side, the committee’s report – is an invaluable body of evidence that demonstrates the problem as well as offering workable solutions. From the experience of other countries, we understand that it often takes public outrage at a disaster – or several of them – to force those in power to protect whistleblowers. And we have such a disaster in Canada, unfolding like a slow-motion train wreck over the past two years. Following the launch of a new payroll system called Phoenix, the government cannot reliably pay its 290,000 unionized employees.

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