Editorial: Fix what’s in place

While critics have long raised concerns about federal protections for government whistleblowers, a new Australian report this week compares how Canada fares on the issue against other G20 countries.

Perhaps surprisingly, a snapshot in the report released by several organizations, including Transparency International Australia, gave this country relatively high marks for its whistleblowing efforts in the public sector following the enactment of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. Canada mostly scored top or decent marks with the notable exception of protections for anonymity.

But as the report makes clear, there are many gaps. While the law may look fine on paper, implementation has been a challenge. Critics such as the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform, of course, have noted several weaknesses with the public sector integrity commissioner, including the lack of authority to order corrective actions or sanction wrongdoers. In addition, the federal auditor general recently found gross mismanagement in the commissioner’s handling of two cases and a five-year review of the whistleblowing law is two years overdue, the Australian report noted.

Most glaringly absent are laws protecting whistleblowers in the private sector. On that score, Canada has done almost nothing, according to the report. While the issues are different when it comes to transparency in the private versus the public sector, the report notes countries such as Britain and the United States have put in plenty of rules that apply to companies. And overall, the report notes a general weakness in G20 countries’ protections for employees’ disclosures to external parties such as the media, non-governmental organizations, unions, and politicians.

The report offers a welcome perspective on how we fare compared to other countries and where we need to make improvements. We all know the federal government hasn’t been particularly keen on openness, but it can at least take some solace in the positive marks for Canada in the report. And when it comes to dealing with the issues identified, it should probably address the long-standing complaints about the public sector integrity commissioner before moving into new areas such as the private sector. For a government that came into office promising a new era of accountability, it’s time to show it meant what it promised.
Glenn Kauth

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