Charbonneau report pushes to make whistleblowing worth it

Among the Charbonneau report's 60 recommendations is a push for more support for those like Ken Pereira who come forward with information of dirty dealings – including, potentially, financial reward.

Recommendations met with some scepticism by union leader praised by commissioner for coming forward

Ken Pereira testifies at the Charbonneau Commission in 2013. (The Canadian Press)

For Ken Pereira, speaking out about the wrongdoing he witnessed while he worked for the construction wing of the FTQ labour federation was a major sacrifice.

"I paid [a price]. A lot of people wanted me dead. I had to move to Alberta for a couple of years," Pereira told CBC.

"People used to tell me that I was a rat, that they were going to kill me," he said.

On the heels of the release of the Charbonneau report, which concluded Quebec's system of corruption was widespread and entrenched, Pereira has experienced a bit of relief.

The former union leader was among the whistleblowers personally thanked by France Charbonneau in her brief remarks when the report was made public.

Among Charbonneau's 60 recommendations is a push for more support and protection for those like Pereira who come forward with first-hand information of dirty dealings – including, potentially, financial reward.

"It's hard," said a pessimistic Pereira. "How can you protect someone who goes against the 'house' or the people they work for?" 

Up to the government

The ball is now in the government's court to implement stricter legislation to shield whistleblowers, said Richard Perron, the head of the Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec (SPGQ), the largest union representing public sector workers in the province.

"The devil is in the details," Perron said. "We're waiting carefully to see whether [the government legislation] will be effective or not."

The SPGQ would like to see a string of changes to protect those who speak out from suffering consequences, including putting the onus on employers to show a whistleblower was not fired because of their actions, instead of leaving the burden of proof with the individual.

Money talks

The Charbonneau report also drew attention to legislation in the U.S. which offers whistleblowers financial incentives to come forward.

Justice Charbonneau recommends introducing a version of the American False Claims Act, which allows individuals to sue fraudulent companies in the name of the state – and then receive a portion of the recovered sums.

It's common practice south of the border, said Jennifer Pacella, a law professor at City University of New York.

"The False Claims Act has been around since our civil war days: It's really for anyone who blows the whistle on fraud against the government," she said.

On top of that, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission made what Pacella calls the "monumental move" to pay back whistleblowers in 2011, when it introduced its own rewards program.

Since then, the SEC has paid out more than $54 million to 22 whistleblowers who provided useful information to authorities.

Money cheapens the act: Pereira

No such legislation from financial regulators exists here in Canada, although Ontario's Securities Commission is in the process of introducing an incentive program with a $5-million purse that should be in place by next spring.

The Canada Revenue Agency, too, has an incentive-backed program used to crack down on international tax evasion.

"I think there is room for improvement to have [more whistleblowing laws] apply in Canada as well," Pacella said. She acknowledges, however, that American incentives and protection for those who denounce colleagues are stronger in the financial and corporate worlds than they are in other sectors, such as the construction industry.

But for Pereira, a monetary reward cheapens the act of coming forward to denounce colleagues.

"You don't do stuff to get profit from it. It's almost contradicting what you are," Pereira said, adding the best protection he received came from the work of investigative journalists, such as the team at Radio-Canada Énquête that first published his story and his allegations against his former bosses.


Salimah Shivji


Salimah Shivji is CBC's India correspondent, based in Mumbai. She has been a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau and has covered everything from climate change to corruption across Canada.


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