“Shooting The Messenger: The Need For Effective Whistleblower Protection In Alberta”

September 01, 2013 | By: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) Mark Blumberg
Topics: News, Canadian Charity Law, Ethics and Canadian Charities, Avoiding 'Charity' Scams

There is an interesting and important report from the Parkland Institute entitled “Shooting The Messenger: The Need For Effective Whistleblower Protection In Alberta”.  The report is written by David Hutton.  David Hutton is also the Executive Director of, FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform).  Canada does not have low level corruption like some countries.  Have you ever had to pay a bribe at a Canadian airport to get through?  However, unfortunately as a result we are complacent and this allows some very well connected people and companies to take advantage of the system and get away with a lot more.  You would notice and be offended by a $10 bribe, but you don’t notice billions in inappropriate procurements or billions in inflated receipts which cost you and every Canadian a lot more.  With the registered charity sector having $212 billion in revenue it provides an attractive target for some who wish to take advantage of it.  From a national security point of view the failure to encourage controlled whistleblowing poses a tremendous threat to the integrity of our intelligence community.  If people don’t have a real outlet to expose problems with real protections - they will go to the media or others.

Here is a link to the report “Shooting The Messenger: The Need For Effective Whistleblower Protection In Alberta”:
http://fairwhistleblower.ca/content/shooting-messenger-need-efffective-whistleblower-protection-alberta

Here is an excerpt from the executive summary:

“...Protecting whistleblowers – honest employees who speak up about suspected misconduct – has been shown to be a powerful tool for combating malpractice and corruption.  In the absence of effective whistleblower protection laws, Albertans run the risk that wrongdoing will go unnoticed, with potential consequences including the misuse of funds, serious physical harms or even loss of life related to food or water, and potentially irreversible damage to our natural environment.  Based on in-depth knowledge of whistleblowing within Canada and extensive international research on whistleblowing protection, this report assesses the current situation in Alberta and makes evidence-based recommendations on how to achieve much-needed improvements.

There is now a strong, well-documented international consensus regarding best practices in relation to whistleblower protection.  Yet Canada is a laggard in this field, with both federal and provincial governments making promises, stalling for years, and then introducing flawed and ineffective legislation.  Other jurisdictions, notably the USA, UK, and Australia, are far ahead of us – by decades in some cases.

This report demonstrates the need for effective whistleblower protection by documenting the devastating consequences of blowing the whistle, including employer reprisals, media scrutiny, and psychological trauma.  Even if a whistleblower succeeds in exposing wrong-doing, the damage to professional and personal life is often substantial.  Proponents of effective whistleblower protection laws often find themselves facing essentially the same barriers that individual whistleblowers face: negative portrayals of whistleblowers; reflexive hostility towards the idea of whistleblower protection; and entrenched or systemic wrongdoing in high places.

The report also examines the Alberta situation, detailing the flaws in the current Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act.  It highlights how the dangers inherent in such inadequate legislation are further aggravated by some of the conditions that prevail in Alberta, including:
• An energy industry that has enormous influence within the province and a questionable track record on public safety and environmental protection.
• A government that is committed to further privatization, even though such arrangements have often led in the past to substandard work at inflated prices.
• The widespread use of temporary foreign workers, who may become trapped in work environments that are dangerous both to them and to the public.
• A lack of transparency regarding public expenditures, aggravated by the increasing flow of public money to private industry.
...”

Here is an excerpt from the introduction:

“What is whistleblowing and why is it important?

Whistleblowers are employees who report suspected wrongdoing or problems that they believe may cause harm to others or to the public interest. As truth-tellers, they are acting not to protect their own interests, but to protect us – the public. Usually there is no personal benefit for them in doing this (they could simply keep quiet and pretend that there is nothing amiss), but they feel compelled by their conscience or professional ethics to speak out. Yet all too often, in doing so, they put themselves at risk of reprisals.

Any of us could find ourselves in the position of having to make this hard choice. We may not know how we would react in such a situation, but fortunately there are many people who choose to ‘do the right thing’ despite daunting threats and personal risks. These courageous people are indispensable, helping to keep us safe in a world where incompetence, misconduct, and outright criminality can harm ordinary citizens in countless ways.  Sadly, whistleblowers frequently suffer reprisals designed to crush and silence them, and the problems that they are trying to expose are often covered up and continue unchecked. Protecting truth-tellers from such reprisals (and ensuring that their concerns are properly investigated) is a very important strategy for curbing malpractice and protecting the public interest.

Whistleblower protection can also be thought of as ‘witness protection for those reporting white collar misconduct’. No one doubts that witness protection programs are an important tool for law enforcement in the battle against organized crime, where witnesses can meet violent ends. But those responsible for ‘white collar’ misconduct within governments and corporations are just as skilled at silencing witnesses – usually by methods that are more subtle, but still devastating.”

Do you require legal advice with respect to Canadian or Ontario non-profits or charities?

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Charity Lawyer Mark Blumberg

Mark Blumberg is a partner at the law firm of Blumberg Segal LLP in Toronto and works almost exclusively in the areas of non-profit and charity law.

mark@blumbergs.ca
416.361.1982
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