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Ombudsman issues scathing report to agriculture ministry over firing of whistleblower
Published Thursday, June 13, 2019 5:39PM EDT Last Updated Thursday, June 13, 2019 9:13PM EDT
Quebec's agriculture minister said he’s not to blame – and won’t apologize – for the firing of a whistleblower earlier this year.
The reaction came Thursday after the release of a scathing report from the province’s ombudsman, calling out the ministry for “major violations.”
“With this particular case, we have identified multiple breaches,” said deputy ombudsman Helene Vallieres.
MAPAQ employee Louis Robert was fired in January after he went public about the influence of the pesticides industry on independent research. He lost his job for sharing private documents with Radio Canada to back his claims of private sector interference.
“We tabled this report today to make sure that the message is clear that the confidentiality of the identity of the whistleblower must be protected,” said Vallieres.
The ombudsman's office called out MAPAQ for not following the law specifically created to protect whistleblowers.
The report pointed to failures in handling the process: First, bureaucrats didn't follow up on the allegations, and then they revealed Robert's identity to his superiors. The report concluded the case could discourage others from coming forward.
“It's important to know for every citizen in Quebec that we have to have mechanisms – internal mechanisms as well as the Quebec ombudsman – to deal with disclosure, to make sure that the whistleblower is all well supported in their act when they come forward with allegations of wrongdoings,” said Vallieres.
The release of the ombudsman's report prompted deputy agriculture minister Marc Dion, a top civil servant, to resign.
But it's Agriculture Minister Andre Lamontagne who should be stepping down, argued Liberal MNA Gaetan Barrette.
“There have been a lot of mishaps in this process. That process is under his own responsibility, he saw and didn't act. He has a responsibility. So, how can anybody in his staff trust him?” he said.
The government is offering to give Robert his job back, but Lamontagne won't apologize and he insisted he did nothing wrong.
“Those things happened under another government, under another minister. What I can do today is to make sure that we implement what has been required by (the ombudsman),” he said.
The ombudsman has made a series of recommendations, including calling on the ministry to come up with an action plan by the end of July, and a follow-up report by the end of September.