North

Yellowknife council closer to adopting whistleblower policy

Policy breaks new ground for filing workplace complaints in the territory, includes how to deal with councillors and staff.

Policy allows anonymous complaints against city staff, but it's unclear how it applies to elected officials

The draft document lists several dozen ways inter-office complaints are filed and investigated, but only a single line about complaints against elected officials. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

A new whistleblower policy will make it easier for Yellowknife city staff to make anonymous workplace complaints, but it is unclear whether it will help with complaints against elected officials, say councillors.

Once approved by city councillors, it will be the first whistleblower policy in the territory. Yukon and Nunavut already have whistleblower legislation.

Councillors were asked to adopt the policy's first draft during a committee meeting Monday. 

The draft was returned to administration for revisions.

Coun. Adrian Bell thanked administrators for their work to date, but wants specific reference to the Council Code of Conduct — a guideline that details how councillors should behave.

While the whistleblower policy allows city staff to make anonymous complaints, the Council Code of Conduct states how complaints against councillors are investigated. 

There is no mention of the Code of Conduct in the whistleblower draft.

"There will always be rules of conduct [for council] so I don't see why we would not refer to them." Bell said.

The draft document lists several dozen ways inter-office complaints are filed and investigated, but only a single line about complaints against elected officials.

The policy states that complaints against the city administrator or elected officials will be filed to human resources who will "manage/coordinate with outside legal counsel."

But Bell says there may be a "considerable expense" to hire outside lawyers. 

"Personally I don't' think that's the way we want to go," Bell said, then referencing the newly struck Conduct Review Committee.  

"There are a couple of councillors assigned to that [committee] who could vet complaints."

Bell stressed the whistleblower policy is "an incredibly important tool" to make complaints in a safe environment without fear of reprisal.

"I'm glad we are working on this but I think more work needs to be done ... I am in favour of sending this back to administration for more work."

Using Mississauga's policy as a guide

Coun. Julian Morse drew comparisons to the whistleblower policy in Mississauga, Ont.

Mississauga's policy outlines one set of rules for staff, and another set of rules for councillors which are handled separately by an integrity commissioner, appointed under the Council Code of Conduct.

Yellowknife's current Council Code of Conduct does not have an integrity commissioner.

However, the policy is currently being reviewed.

"I think it has been established that our Code of Conduct is out of date and a new policy is needed," Morse said.

Like Coun. Bell, Morse wants a written link in the whistleblower policy with the Code of Conduct

"The problem that I would see happening if council is to adopt the [whistleblower] policy as it is, is that if a complaint were to come in [about a councillor], then there becomes this question as to what happens.

Morse says this is a "recipe for this sort of thing to go sideways."

"The person being investigated could very rightfully complain that the process was not clear to them, and therefore is not fair," Morse said.

Meanwhile, the city already has an existing system for dealing with complaints.

A person can either go to a department head, human resources or the senior administrative officer with complaints about mismanagement and misconduct. Allegations of discrimination and harassment are then directed to a conflict officer.

However, neither of these processes are anonymous.

Intended for complaints of serious nature

Shortly after being sworn in in November 2015, council directed administration to research whistleblower policy options.

Yellowknife's draft policy, which is available on the city's website, states whistleblower protection "is intended to address complaints of a serious nature, such as illegal acts, in particular serious breaches."

Some councillors and staff were concerned, but not outright opposed, to whistleblower protection that could be seen as a statement of mistrust toward management.

By April 2016 administration was directed to move beyond research and write a whistleblower policy.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.