Firing Ms. X: Ottawa's whistleblower law takes down a boss for bad behaviour
Public Services and Procurement Canada terminates manager after staffer's complaints
A worker at a big federal department has brought down an overbearing boss – an unusual instance of Canada's whistleblower legislation leading to the dismissal of a manager.
The manager — a woman at Public Services and Procurement Canada — was terminated sometime after Oct. 18, more than a year after being accused of intimidation, verbal abuse, inappropriate comments, running her privately owned business from work, showing up late for work and forcing her staff to work unnecessary overtime.
The accusations were made by an unidentified federal employee under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, in force since April 2007 and widely criticized for protecting managers and exposing whistleblowers to risk of retaliation.
The manager, referred to only as 'Ms. X' by the department to protect her identity, worked in the Real Property Branch.
An investigation found that, among other things, she "did not keep regular work hours, often came to work late, or purported to work from home. She also caused unnecessary after-hours work for her staff to get routine tasks completed.
"On occasion, the employee would also conduct work related to her small, privately owned business on department time. … A staff member was asked by the employee to drive her to meetings using her personal vehicle without being allowed travel costs."
The woman also failed to abide by departmental policy on security "by not reporting an impaired driving conviction," the inquiry found — though that did not amount to wrongdoing as defined under the Act and was excluded from the rationale for firing her.
Probe took more than a year
The investigation and firing took more than a year. The allegations were officially filed in July 2016, the inquiry began in October 2016, the probe was completed in June 2017 and the manager was suspended without pay in July 2017.
She was "terminated" sometime after Oct. 18 last year – the department refused to give a precise date to protect her privacy – after she submitted a written rebuttal that did not change the findings.
"It was determined that the appropriate disciplinary sanction to apply in this case was a termination of employment for disciplinary reasons," says an internal PSPC document, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.
Department spokeswoman Michele LaRose said it marks the first time anyone at PSPC has been fired as a result of a formal whistleblower disclosure.
LaRose defended the length of the process, saying the department ensures "that investigations of misconduct are done thoroughly." She declined to respond to other questions to protect the privacy of the individual.
It's designed to protect senior bureaucrats, not the ordinary public servant.- Allan Cutler, former public servant and activist for whistleblowers
A government report shows that PSPC received 23 whistleblower disclosures in 2016-2017, and acted on 11 of them.
A House of Commons committee reviewed the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act (PSPDA) last spring, the first statutory review of the law in its first 10 years.
Numerous witnesses slammed the law, including Allan Cutler, a former whistleblower at PSPC, then known as Public Works. Cutler helped exposed the Liberal sponsorship scandal in the early 2000s and later helped found Canadians for Accountability, a whistleblower group.
The act "completely fails to protect those it's [supposed] to protect," he told MPs on the committee. "It's designed to protect senior bureaucrats, not the ordinary public servant."
The committee's final report in June last year found that the law "does not sufficiently protect whistleblowers from reprisals as most of them face significant financial, professional and health related consequences." (The Liberal government later responded by accepting all the findings, but provided no detail on when or how it plans to fix the Act.)
Asked by CBC News to comment on the "Ms. X" firing, Cutler said: "Having dealt with many whistleblowers over a number of years, I am surprised that anyone has been fired based on the Act.
"It would appear that after many years of protecting senior management and failing to criticize, someone needed a success story to prove PSPDA works."
Since the Ms. X termination, the same department reported firing two casual workers "for consuming and trafficking small quantities of a cannabis derivative at work," after a whistleblower filed a complaint.
"Both employees had consumed marijuana within working hours and within Public Services and Procurement premises and they provided the marijuana to other casual employees," says the notice.
The process for firing casual workers is much simpler than the one for full-time workers.
Ms. X is not the first public-sector manager to be fired following employee complaints.
Whistleblowers can also complain directly to the office of the public sector integrity commissioner, which in 2014 completed an investigation that led to the termination of the CEO of Enterprise Cape Breton Corp. John Lynn was fired for partisan hiring practices favouring federal Conservatives and Progressive Conservatives in Nova Scotia.
An executive at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was also criticized last year by the integrity commissioner, Joe Friday, for mistreatment and harassment of staff. The woman, Genevieve Desjardins, was not fired but faced disciplinary measures. She is challenging the commissioner's findings in Federal Court.
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