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A majority of Quebec civil servants are unaware of the whistleblowing law: ombudsperson

Quebec's ombudsperson Marc Andre Dowd speaks at a news conference, Thursday, December 7, 2023 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot Quebec's ombudsperson Marc Andre Dowd speaks at a news conference, Thursday, December 7, 2023 at the legislature in Quebec City. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
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More than six years after it came into force, the majority of government employees are not familiar with the whistleblower legislation, according to the latest special report by the Québec Ombudsperson, tabled on Thursday.

"The methods of disclosure are not well enough known and many people fear reprisals if they decide to blow the whistle," said Québec ombudsperson Marc-André Dowd at a news conference at the national assembly on Thursday.

The report also states that a number of government employees claim that "their workplace is in the grip of a 'culture of omerta,' where the duty of loyalty to the employer is over-emphasised."

Some say they have the impression that they live in an environment that is "hostile" to whistleblowers, who put themselves "at risk of being hunted down," "stalked" and possibly punished, particularly if the act "implicates a superior or a senior manager."

According to Dowd, this kind of practice goes against the spirit of the whistleblowing law: "The spirit of the law is to create safe spaces where people can feel confident, in complete confidentiality, to come forward and disclose wrongdoing," he said.

"So practices that consist of looking for emails, actively searching to find out who gave the information, do not seem to me to be compatible with the spirit of the law," added the ombudsperson.

The problem also stems from the fact that those responsible for following up disclosures (RSDs) in public bodies are too often "people high up in the institutional hierarchy," which runs counter to the ombudsperson's recommendations.

According to the report, 85 per cent of RSDs are managers or senior managers.

"It is understandable that employees may be intimidated or reluctant to make a disclosure to senior management. So changes are needed," said the ombudsperson.

Dowd maintains that the entire verification and investigation aspect of a disclosure should be the responsibility of the Québec Ombudsperson. Instead, the RSDs should play the role of "spokesperson for public integrity within their organization."

The ombudsperson obtained this information from four surveys of public servants.

"The Whistleblowers Act came into force on May 1, 2017, with the aim of facilitating the disclosure of wrongdoing committed or about to be committed in relation to public bodies and ensuring the protection of whistleblowers and people who cooperate with audits or investigations from possible reprisal measures," the report reads.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Dec. 7, 2023. 

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