New recommendations released in a government committee report on Friday to revamp whistleblower protection legislation in Canada is pleasing some advocates.
The report released by the House of Commons Government Operations and Estimates Committee on June 17 outlined a list of recommendations and changes to protect federal public servants that speak up about government wrongdoing.
Some of the recommended changes to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act include:
- Giving departments a duty to protect whistleblowers.
- Reversing the burden of proof from the whistleblower onto the employer in cases of reprisals.
- Amending the legislation to protect whistleblowers and to prevent retaliation against them.
Joe Friday, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, made recommendations to the commons committee including giving his office more power to help public servants.
"I'm very happy to see a majority of the recommendations I made were adopted by the committee," said Friday. "One very important one is the reversal of the onus of proof for someone who's suffering reprisal. So rather than the victim having to prove that they were reprised against, the burden shifts to the employer."
Friday said another important change mentioned in the report is the integrity commissioner's ability to step outside the boundaries of government when it comes to investigations.
Right now, Friday's investigators are prohibited from obtaining information outside the public sector, which can hamstring an investigation.
"I'm certainly looking forward to continuing to have a loud and progressive voice in a process that's really in the early stages still."
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David Hutton, a senior fellow with the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, said he is also pleased with what he sees in the committee's report.
Hutton said a review of the legislation is long overdue. The disclosure protection act was brought into law by the former Harper government in 2007 and was supposed to go through a legislative review in 2011, which didn't happen.
"It's not possible to turn a law that's so badly written and so complex into something really world class just in one round of amendments, it just can't be done, but they've really gone a long way to making this into a law that will work and will be quite progressive in some ways," said Hutton.
Democracy Watch co-founder, Duff Conacher, also appeared before the commons committee this winter.
Conacher's submission included a petition with more than 21,000 signatures calling for key changes to protect people who blow the whistle on "government and big business abuse, waste and law-breaking."
"The question now is whether the Liberals will make those changes or continue to let people in federal politics who do wrong threaten and attack people who try to disclose their wrongdoing," said Conacher.
Hutton points to the Lac Megantic rail disaster, the Phoenix pay system fiasco and the Maple Leaf food recall as calamities that could have unfolded differently if whistleblowers had felt they could come forward.
"We have an organization that employs about 400,000 people. They spend a billion dollars a day. There are undoubtedly other Phoenix-like disasters in the works and at the moment, the Trudeau government is not going to hear about those until it's too late to deal with them," said Hutton.
The government is expected to respond to the committee's proposals by the fall.