Whistle blower plans silenced

The Yukon Party government shut down debate over whistle-blower legislation on Wednesday. Bill 112, the Disclosure Protection Act, was introduced by the Liberal Opposition last month to "empower Yukoners to speak out against wrongdoing and be protected against reprisal," said MLA Don Inverarity.

The Yukon Party government shut down debate over whistle-blower legislation on Wednesday.

Bill 112, the Disclosure Protection Act, was introduced by the Liberal Opposition last month to “empower Yukoners to speak out against wrongdoing and be protected against reprisal,” said MLA Don Inverarity.

The Yukon Party government sees things differently. They insist that the bill, which is nearly identical to a whistle-blower law used in Manitoba, would circumvent the work of a select committee that’s charged with investigating how to draft whistleblowing legislation for the Yukon.

But that committee, formed in May of 2007, has not met for almost a year. It’s chaired by Ted Staffen, the house Speaker.

Unlike other select committees, this one has no deadline to submit a final report to the legislature. With an election to be held by the autumn, it’s unlikely the committee will complete its work, said Inverarity.

Government members chided the Liberals for trying to push through a bill without public consultation. Inverarity responded that when his party tabled the bill earlier this sitting, they asked the government to help by holding public talks on it. They haven’t.

“The Yukon Party has stopped every bill that the Liberals have put forward,” said Inverarity. “The Yukon Party promised Yukoners that it would develop whistle-blower protection for the Yukon. This government has had more than eight years to get this done. Why did the government break this promise?”

Elaine Taylor shot back that the real question was why Inverarity had brought forward a bill “that’s only half complete.” To make the point, she quoted Inverarity himself, speaking on February 28, when he acknowledged that “a lot of work still needs to be done before any form of whistle-blower legislation can be implemented in the Yukon.”

But Taylor was yanking these words out of context. Inverarity made that point while asking the Yukon government to hold public talks on the proposed bill and to have Justice officials vet the draft law.

“The government did this with the New Democratic Party and its Smoke-Free Places Act. The Liberals are simply asking the government to do the same thing,” said Inverarity.

As well, the Yukon Party’s Civil Forfeiture Act was tabled last summer without public consultation, noted Inverarity. It was later withdrawn, after the bill, which would have given police wide-reaching powers to seize property from suspected drug dealers, sparked protests.

The whistleblowing bill would offer protection to all employees – in government and the private sector -¬ who reveal that their employers have endangered lives, damaged the environment or mismanaged public funds.

Safety concerns would need to be beyond the “inherent” dangers of an occupation, said Inverarity. He used the example of a worker issued a chainsaw without safety equipment.

Employers who retaliated against whistle-blowers would face a $10,000 fine. Fines would also be levied against workers who made malicious accusations against their employers.

Yukon’s ombudsman would vet complaints. She would have the power to ignore complaints deemed frivolous or vexatious.

As an odd example of a whistle-blower, Inverarity referred to Brad Cathers, the independent MLA who quit the Yukon Party cabinet a year and a half ago after falling out with Premier Dennis Fentie over the Yukon Energy privatization scandal.

“The member now sits in opposition and must endure public criticism from his former cabinet colleagues,” said Inverarity. “This is what reprisal is all about: being punished for doing a good deed.”

After a short, acrimonious exchange, the Yukon Party used their majority to end debate.

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com.

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