Proposed law fails to protect whistleblowers: ombudsman

Proposed whistleblower protection laws could do more harm than good if they are not strengthened, according to Yukon's ombudsman.

Proposed whistleblower protection laws could do more harm than good if they are not strengthened, according to Yukon’s ombudsman.

“I don’t feel that the legislation that’s being proposed is strong enough to protect whistleblowers from reprisal,” said Diane McLeod-McKay in an interview Tuesday. She released a document outlining her concerns last week.

As ombudsman, Diane McLeod-McKay would likely be the person appointed to investigate claims of wrongdoing brought forward by whistleblowers under the proposed new rules.

But the discussion document put forward by the government last month suggests that the ombudsman would only have the power to recommend a remedy if she finds that a whistleblower has been fired or suffered another consequence for coming forward.

“My powers are limited to the power to recommend, with the final decision resting with the employer, of whom I just found engaged in reprisal,” said McLeod-McKay. “I find that very problematic, and I think that it will prevent people from coming forward and actually reporting wrongdoing.”

Without the power to enforce protections, the system designed to help whistleblowers “ends up being a trap for people who think they’re being protected,” said McLeod-McKay, citing a study out of the European Union that said just as much.

“It creates a real risk for individuals who are willing to come forward.”

In her comments to the government McLeod-McKay outlines a number of alternatives that would give more teeth to the proposed legislation.

The ombudsman could be given the authority to apply to the Yukon Supreme Court to make a decision about the remedy, where a whistleblower has been punished for coming forward.

Or, the ombudsman could have the power to retain an adjudicator for that purpose.

Finally, the ombudsman could have the authority to order the remedy herself. This approach is consistent with what was recommended by the Yukon Legislative Assembly’s select committee on the protection of whistleblowers.

In the legislature Tuesday, NDP Opposition Leader Liz Hanson asked why this key recommendation had not been followed.

Currie Dixon, the minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, responded that gathering this sort of feedback is the reason the government goes out for consultation.

He said that the ombudsman’s comments would be taken into consideration.

A national advocacy group has also criticized Yukon’s proposed new rules.

“They’re copying legislation that’s not working,” said David Hutton, executive director of the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform, last month.

Across Canada, the whistleblower legislation that exists has not worked to expose wrongdoing or protect whistleblowers, he said.

Hutton’s group is currently working on a report reviewing the effectiveness of whistleblowing legislation in the provinces.

Six Canadian provinces currently have whistleblower legislation. Between them there are 19 annual reports from the offices set up to deal with whistleblower complaints. While those offices have received 170 formal disclosures of wrongdoing, they have not concluded that wrongdoing occurred in a single case.

And the group has never heard of a case where an employer has been penalized for firing or otherwise sanctioning a whistleblower for speaking out, he said.

A major problem with the current legislation is that it only gives one or two narrow channels for whistleblowers to have their complaints dealt with.

“It just becomes a black hole where whistleblowers go and their allegations die, and they die with them,” said Hutton.

Canada’s whistleblowing legislation does not protect whistleblowers when they take their concerns to the media, except under specific and controlled circumstances.

But the threat of going public is important, because it puts pressure on organizations to deal with complaints internally, he said.

The comment period on the proposed rules ended April 16.

The government aims to table legislation this fall, Dixon said.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

In a Feb. 17 statement, the City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology used for emergency response. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Three words could make all the difference in an emergency

City of Whitehorse announced it had adopted the what3words location technology

Jesse Whelen, Blood Ties Four Directions harm reduction councillor, demonstrates how the organization tests for fentanyl in drugs in Whitehorse on May 12, 2020. The Yukon Coroner’s Service has confirmed three drug overdose deaths and one probable overdose death since mid-January. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three overdose deaths caused by “varying levels of cocaine and fentanyl,” coroner says

Heather Jones says overdoses continue to take lives at an “alarming rate”

Wyatt's World for Feb. 24, 2021.
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 24, 2021.

Approximately 30 Yukoners protest for justice outside the Whitehorse courthouse on Feb. 22, while a preliminary assault hearing takes place inside. The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society, based in Watson Lake, put out a call to action over the weekend. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Courthouse rally denounces violence against Indigenous women

The Whitehorse rally took place after the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society put out a call to action

The now empty lot at 410 Cook Street in Whitehorse on January 19. As developers move forward with plans for a housing development that would feature 16 micro-units, they are asking city council for a zoning change that would reduce the number of required parking spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Parking problems predicted

Zoning amendment would create more on-street parking issues, residents say

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18.	(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

The Yukon government and the Yukon First Nations Chamber of Commerce have signed a letter of understanding under the territory’s new procurement policy. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
First Nation business registry planned under new procurement system

Letter of understanding signals plans to develop registry, boost procurement opportunities

US Consul General Brent Hardt during a wreath-laying ceremony at Peace Arch State Park in September 2020. Hardt said the two federal governments have been working closely on the issue of appropriate border measures during the pandemic. (John Kageorge photo)
New U.S. consul general says countries working closely on COVID-19 border

“I mean, the goal, obviously, is for both countries to get ahead of this pandemic.”

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Start of spring sitting announced

The Yukon legislature is set to resume for the spring sitting on… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

(Submitted)
History Hunter: Kwanlin Dün — a book of history, hardship and hope

Dǎ Kwǎndur Ghày Ghàkwadîndur: Our Story in Our Words is published by… Continue reading

Most Read