Saskatchewan

Sask. NDP calls on health minister to protect health authority employees under 'whistleblower legislation'

The Saskatchewan NDP is asking the provincial government to amend public disclosure laws to protect Saskatchewan Health Authority employees who wish to raise concerns.

So-called 'hush memo' prompts call for whistleblower protection

Minister of Health Jim Reiter says the province may add Saskatchewan Health Authority employees to existing legislation protecting government workers who speak out. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Saskatchewan NDP is asking the provincial government to amend public disclosure laws to protect Saskatchewan Health Authority employees who wish to raise concerns.

NDP Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer raised the issue in question period on Thursday. She asked Health Minister Jim Reiter if the government would take the steps to make sure SHA employees would be protected under the province's public interest disclosure act.

Reiter said SHA employees are not protected under the act because the province's 12 RHAs were amalgamated in Dec. 2017 and were seen as autonomous. He said it may be time to revisit that.

"We will do whatever is necessary to make sure people have that opportunity to speak out," Reiter said.

He said that could include the SHA creating its own set of rules or folding SHA employees into the existing disclosure legislation.

"Unless there is a compelling reason not to, I don't know why we wouldn't just add them to the provincial legislation," Reiter said.

Sarauer said SHA employees should be protected from retribution from raising workplace concerns.

"They shouldn't be looking into it. They should just do it," she said.

In April, the provincial Ombudsman and Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner Mary McFadyen described a troublingly low number of complaints by public sector workers about their employers.

Last year she received 3,124 ombudsman complaints from the public about provincial and municipal entities but was contacted only six times as the Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner.

Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, employees of certain provincial government institutions are protected if they disclose possible workplace wrongdoings to the commissioner or a designated officer. McFadyen has received a total of 77 inquiries in that capacity since 2012. Designated officers have received six over the same period.

McFadyen said her office received "brown envelopes," which she suggested amounted to a fear of reporting, adding that she believes the province needs to improve its communication to workers about how whistleblowers are protected.

SHA releases new memo in response to so-called 'hush memo'

Earlier this week the NDP released a Sept. 2019 memo it had obtained via FOI that had been sent by an SHA representative to a group of physicians.

The memo referred to "a number of instances ... that have not met communication standards." 

The author of the memo asked recipients to "follow corporate identity standards" and closed by saying, "if you do not want to see it in the newspaper, then do not include it in the meeting minutes." 

The NDP characterized it as an "Orwellian hush memo," while Reiter said it was "worded poorly" but did not amount to a "muzzling" as the NDP had claimed.

On Thursday, Sarauer called the directive to omit information in meeting minutes "extremely concerning and extremely problematic."

Dr. Susan Shaw Chief Medical Officer with the SHA sent a "Clarification on SHA Communication Policies and Practices" memo to physician leaders on Thursday, which was also distributed to the media and the opposition.

"I want to be clear that the SHA does not have a policy, nor has the SHA ever had any intent to restrict staff or physicians from exercising their right to free speech," Shaw wrote in the new memo.

Shaw said the point of the initial memo amounted to a reminder of privacy and human resources policies and a reminder to physicians to be clear on who they are representing when speaking publicly.

Shaw said she spoke to the author of the original memo who said the media coverage and FOI requests were not the reason for the first memo.

About the Author

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for 12 years. He hosts the CBC podcast On the Ledge. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

with files from Alicia Bridges

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