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A MIGHTY BLOW

October 13 2003
Weather

A MIGHTY BLOW

October 13 2003

SHOCK TALK

The Radwanski affair is just the latest to illustrate how Ottawa needs better whistle-blower protection

DECIDING TO become a dissenter inside a political party is often an act of courage. Breaking with the code of institutional loyalty inside the public service to reveal wrongdoing should never have to be. Yet, as last week’s shocking auditor general’s report on former privacy commissioner George Radwanski revealed, bureaucrats under his thumb were terrorized into silence. “We found an environment of fear and arbitrariness in the office of the privacy commissioner,” Auditor General Sheila Fraser said. “The effect of this breakdown was a climate that allowed the abuse of the public treasury for the benefit of the former commissioner and a few senior executives.” Beyond the sordid details of Radwanski’s conduct, the deeper scandal may be that federal whistle-blower protections are so weak that honest bureaucrats didn’t feel safe in exposing the pillaging of the privacy commissioner’s budget. Pressed on the issue in the Commons, Treasury Board President Lucienne Robillard, the cabinet min-

ister responsible for the public service, promised new recommendations in January on protecting federal employees who reveal misconduct. “On behalf of my government, I will commit to do whatever we need to do to protect employees who disclose wrongdoing,” Robillard said. “We want employees to do that without fear of reprisals.” Sounds good, but why did it take the outrageous Radwanski affair—so egregious the RCMP is now investigating to see if criminal charges must be laid—to get this far? After all, there have been high-profile cases illustrating the need for whistle-blower protection in the recent past. Health Canada scientists faced reprisals over expressing concerns about bovine growth hormone. A Foreign Affairs official was pressured when she wanted to reveal excessive spending in embassies. A well-organized coalition, organized by the group Democracy Watch, has been lobbying for coherent whistle-blower safeguards. The government’s own public service integrity officer, Edward Keyserlingk, has recendy added his voice to those urging similar reforms. Now, the government might just have to pay attention. J.G.