PEI

P.E.I. Opposition's private sector whistleblower protection bill passes 2nd reading

An opposition bill to provide protection for whistleblowers in the private sector passed second reading in the legislature this week.

Under the bill, employees wouldn't be penalized for reporting offences by employers to law enforcement

'It gives workers in any field that you happen to work under in Prince Edward Island pretty comprehensive whistleblower protection,' says Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker of the proposed legislation. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

An Opposition bill to provide protection for whistleblowers in the private sector passed second reading in an emergency sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature Tuesday evening.

Under the bill sponsored by Green Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, employees wouldn't be penalized for reporting offences by employers to law enforcement — or if they were to testify in an investigation.

Government legislation to provide protection for whistleblowers in the public sector passed in 2017, but has never been brought into effect.

"Until this bill becomes law, workers in the private sector here do not have whistleblower protection, except under kind of limited circumstances, so it gives workers in any field that you happen to work under in Prince Edward Island pretty comprehensive whistleblower protection," Bevan-Baker said.

Bevan-Baker said whistleblowers serve as the "first responders" in keeping companies, corporations and governments in check, if matters aren't being carried out properly or legally. The bill would provide two mechanisms for workers to be able to come forward with information.

Resolving issues internally

"You can either go to a superior in your company or corporation, or in case of government your department, or you can actually go to a law enforcement agency," he said. 

"The purpose of the bill and the way it works in other provinces that have private support protection — Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and some others — is that there's a preference to resolve these issues internally, not for this to become a civil case or something which is going to find its ways into the courts of law." 

The law, which would protect whistleblowers in the Island's private sector, was brought forward during an emergency sitting of the P.E.I. Legislature. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Bevan-Baker said the legislation also aims to protect the companies and government bodies themselves — that the matters could be dealt with quickly without becoming "a big public affair," while simultaneously protecting public interest.

He said there are two major reasons behind the decision to bring forward the legislation during the COVID-19 health crisis. 

"There's a lot of chaos going on at the moment, both in, you know, governments everywhere and also in the private sector," Bevan-Baker said.

"People's jobs are precarious, businesses are squeezed in a way they haven't been before so, a combination of those two things, a lot of money exchanging hands in extreme chaos and less oversight than is typical."

Premier Dennis King said the P.E.I. government's intention is to have the legislation proclaimed soon, however, he wants to first appoint an ombudsperson — an official appointed by a government to investigate individuals' complaints — to oversee the legislation.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Angela Walker

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