A union representing federal public servants condemns a memo sent to employees in the Department of Justice that warns against social media activity critical of the federal government.

The email was sent by Bruno Thériault, a director general at the department's workplace branch in Ottawa, advising employees that social media does not "absolve them" from their duty of loyalty to refrain from criticizing the government.

The memo went on to list recommendations about personal social media use, saying "you are a public servant 24/7," and reminders to "assist" public servants in "upholding your obligations under the Code."

The code Thériault mentioned is the "Department of Justice Values and Ethics Code."

The email eventually made its way into the hands of union officials, who call it an intimidation tactic aimed at putting a "chill" on the rights of civil servants.

"This government appears to be using fear and intimidation to shut people down in participating in the way they ought to be able to," said Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC).

Daviau referenced a 1991 ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada that struck down a ban on election activity by federal employees.

Public servants can't campaign at their offices but can go door-to-door or post election signs on their lawn. Daviau said social media posts are a similar type of political activity.

She did say the memo could be responding to the fact many public servants are candidates in the election, set for Oct. 19. She said there are no special social media rules for public servants during an election.

"It's a very heavy-handed approach," she said.

In an email, a justice department spokesperson said the email "was intended as a complement to the communications related to public servant involvement in political activities."