Yukon's whistleblower legislation takes effect

Legislation designed to protect whistleblowers takes effect in Yukon today. The territory's new Office of the Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner is officially open.

Legislation intended to protect public servants who expose corruption, waste and pollution

The Yukon Legislative Assembly building in Whitehorse. Legislation designed to protect public-sector whistleblowers takes effect in Yukon today. (CBC)

New legislation designed to protect whistleblowers takes effect in Yukon today.

The legislation allows public-sector employees to report incidents of wrongdoing without reprisal. Under the new laws, an Office of the Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner — which also opened Monday — will handle disclosures of wrongdoing, as well as complaints of reprisal made by employees.

The legislation had been demanded by Opposition parties for a number of years, and was introduced in November 2014 after being debated for years.

"Guaranteed protection against reprisal is of particular importance in Yukon given its size," said Yukon NDP leader Liz Hanson, adding that the legislation is especially relevant in a small territory where it is more difficult to be anonymous. 

All territorial government departments, public corporations such as the hospital and energy corporations, and any public service offices such as the legislative assembly and elections office are covered under the new laws, according to Diane McLeod-McKay, the territory's new Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner.

She says some aspects of the legislation are unique to Yukon.

"If, for example, I investigate a reprisal... if the public entity did not accept my recommendations or did not agree with my findings, then either I... or the public entity can take the matter to arbitration, and then the arbitrator can actually issue binding orders," says McLeod-McKay.

"So in this sense, in the Yukon, public employees are protected because they can be reassured that if they are reprised against, there is the ability to make binding orders to correct that reprisal."

Under the new legislation, named the Public Interest Disclosure of Wrongdoing Act, a wrongdoing is defined as:

  • an unlawful act;
  • an act or omission that endangers people or the environment;
  • gross mismanagement of public funds or a public asset; or 
  • knowingly directing or counselling an individual to commit a wrongdoing

McLeod-McKay said it is important that people be familiar with the act if they are thinking of making a disclosure. Some things, such as solicitor-client privilege information and cabinet confidences, are protected from disclosure. In addition, employees must make disclosures to the correct person to be protected under the act.

"So if people are thinking of making a disclosure, I encourage them to contact our office, so they know what the rules are, and they can ensure that they're following the rules in order to be protected from reprisal," says McLeod-McKay.

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