Quebec's ombudsman has a new mandate aimed at giving better protection to whistleblowers.

The goal of the Act to facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoings relating to public bodies is to protect whistleblowers in public institutions and guarantee their confidentiality.

The legislation was adopted in December and the powers that come with it came into force this week.

Ombudsman Marie Rinfret’s investigations can look into a range of public bodies:

  • Québec government departments and agencies;
  • State corporations (e.g. Hydro-Québec, Loto-Québec, SAQ);
  • Public health and social services institutions and private institutions under contract (e.g. CHSLDs, hospitals, CLSCs);
  • Schools boards and their schools;
  • Public CEGEP and universities;
  • Childcare centres and subsidized day care centres

If whistleblowers face consequences at work for sounding the alarm, the ombudsman has the power to step in.

“With this new mandate it's a new game, it's a new environment for us to be in charge of that kind of thing, but it's very important. It's (in the) public interest,” said Jean-Francois Bernier, deputy ombudsman of institutional affairs and prevention. “At the end of it, if we see that there's something there and we judge that it's important that we issue fines, we will do it.”

Those who want to raise a red flag can do it anonymously through the ombudsman's website.

The ombudsman now has four specific areas of jurisdiction:

  • Complaints concerning Quebec government departments and agencies;
  • Complaints and reports concerning institutions within the health and social services network;
  • Complaints from detainees in correctional facilities under Quebec governance;
  • Disclosures of wrongdoing regarding public bodies and complaints stemming from reprisal further to disclosure of wrongdoing or to cooperation in an investigation or audit.

One of Quebec's most well-known Charbonneau Commission witnesses, Ken Pereira says running into roadblocks is common for whistleblowers.

He says running into roadblocks is common for whistleblowers.

“A lot of people love them when they're in the opposition and then when they get into power the whistleblower is pushed aside, we really don't want to hear about it,” said Pereira, whose testimony exposed ties between Quebec's largest union and organized crime.  

The Liberal government insists it is determined to follow through on recommendations from the Charbonneau Commission report.

“We think that it is important to protect whistleblowers in the public sector and in companies that have dealings with the public sector,” said Liberal MNA Carlos Leitao.

PQ MNA Veronique Hivon agrees it's a step in the right direction.

“We will see how that goes, but of course we have, as a democracy, to be sure that we really, really protect the whistleblowers. It has to remain a concern all the time,” she said.