Friday April 28, 2017

Don't Shoot the Messenger: the value of whistleblowing

Protestors lend support as David House, a founding member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, testifies in US Federal Courthouse in Arlington, Virginia, June 15, 2011, to testify before the Federal Grand Jury, regarding the investigation on WikiLeaks.

Protestors lend support as David House, a founding member of the Bradley Manning Support Network, testifies in US Federal Courthouse in Arlington, Virginia, June 15, 2011, to testify before the Federal Grand Jury, regarding the investigation on WikiLeaks. (AUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Listen to Full Episode 54:00

Recorded at Ryerson University's Centre for Free Expression, Paul Kennedy hosts a panel on why whistleblowers are vital to the public interest...and how their exposure of wrongdoing can ultimately be helpful, even to their workplace. Investigator Sandy Boucher, international expert Anna Myers, and Canadian advocate David Hutton join forces to explain why they believe whistleblowers should be heard and protected.


 

When people are asked to name a whistleblower these days, they likely think of the headline-grabbing story of Edward Snowden. His leak of classified documents detailing widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency provoked global debate.
 

"I think in the U.S. system...it was always seen that a whistleblower is someone who goes outside to a journalist. For most individuals, that is the last port of call, rather than the first...People don't think about going to the journalist. So I think there's a lot of misconception...around whistleblowing." -- Anna Myers, Whistleblowing International Network

Whistleblower Panel at the Ryerson Centre for Free Expression

Paul Kennedy, left, with panellists Anna Myers, David Hutton, and Sandy Boucher at Ryerson's Centre for Free Expression in Toronto, March 2017 (Ange Holmes/Ryerson Centre for Free Expression)

In fact, the vast majority of whistleblowing occurs on a smaller scale -- and far away from the media's gaze, and the public's knowledge. That can make the act of calling out fraud, corruption, and misbehaviour a risky business for workers who speak up. While they may not need to flee to Russia like Snowden, the repercussions can be personally and professionally devastating. That is true particularly when those in power decide to self-protectively circle their wagons and deliberately undermine the reputation of the employee who is speaking out. Still, according to our panel, most whistleblowers likely would do it all over again.


"From my perspective, a great many whistleblowers -- perhaps the vast majority of them -- get into trouble by doing what they see as their job… And most of them feel they don't have any choice about it, and many of them have no idea of how serious the consequences may be for them."  -- David Hutton


Sandy Boucher, David Hutton, and Anna Myers collectively share decades of experience talking to whistleblowers from both the private and public sectors -- from medical researchers to tree surgeons. Through whistleblower hotlines and meetings, they give them advice, and bear witness to what happens in the wake of people's disclosures.  

That's what unites them in believing that whistleblowing keeps organizations, governments, and businesses ethical -- and democracy healthy. That's also why they are calling for better protection for whistleblowers themselves -- at home in Canada, and internationally.  Specifically, they call for better government legislation and clearer policies, as well as investigative reporting that follows through. There may need to be an attitude change on the employer level as well.  Whistleblowing, after all, is as an opportunity: it exposes a serious internal problem that can be investigated and curtailed at earlier stages, with less damage to all involved.
 

Guests in this episode:

  • Sandy Boucher is a fraud and corruption investigator, and Senior Manager with Grant Thornton LLP. He's also a former Superintendent with the Royal Hong Kong Police.
     
  • David Hutton is a longtime proponent of whistleblower protection in Canada, and the former Executive Director of FAIR -- the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform.

Related websites:

**This episode was produced by Lisa Godfrey.