A whistleblower fired after alleging misconduct at Employment Canada says she was left penniless and unemployable. Members of the Commons government operations committee yesterday cited other “horrific cases” of Canadians ruined for exposing federal wrongdoing.
“I’m in debt, I’m no longer considered employable, I don’t have any money,” said Sylvie Therrien, a former Employment Insurance claims investigator; “It was a horrible situation.”
Therrien was fired in 2013 after alleging managers were offered $50,000 bonuses for disqualifying legitimate claims for benefits. The Federal Court of Appeal in a January 20 ruling cited the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner for procedural unfairness in mishandling Therrien’s case.
“I was ostracized,” said Therrien. “People didn’t want to talk to me, and people started questioning how I did my work. Everything I did was wrong. If I took a five-minute break, people said I took 10 minutes.”
“People who are in fact responsible for wrongdoing are often the people with the power,” said Therrien. “They are high up. People below them are made to suffer. They are put through the wringer. That was my experience.”
“The employer has lots of lawyers and a whole range of people who can destroy your reputation, and this is in fact what they do,” said Therrien; “You should review the Act to provide proper protection so the system protects the whistleblower, instead of protecting people who already have the power.”
MPs conducting the statutory review of the 2007 Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act said the law has failed. “Whistleblowers are ethical and yet they get penalized,” said Liberal MP Yasmin Ratansi (Don Valley East, Ont.).
“The Act is more of a paper shield than a metal shield,” said Ratansi; “I want to ensure this culture of intimidation – that the big guns come to extinguish you – I want to ensure that in the public interest we are letting the public know they can report wrongdoing without being persecuted.”
“Lives Were Destroyed”
MPs on March 21 heard testimony from a Hope, B.C. plumbing contractor, D.R. Garrett Construction Ltd., that was blacklisted and bankrupted after complaining of hidden asbestos at the Kent penitentiary in Agassiz, B.C. “I was put out of business by the federal government,” said owner Don Garrett.
“We have seen some horrific cases of the government going out of its way to destroy people’s lives,” Conservative MP Kelly McCauley (Edmonton West) yesterday told the committee: “Obviously, we’re going to have some major changes.”
“How do we protect whistleblowers and their staff from bad government practices so their company is protected from being blacklisted?” said McCauley; “Any contractor sitting at home is going to see how lives were destroyed and say, ‘There’s no way in the world.’”
Integrity Commissioner Joe Friday, faulted by a federal judge for breaching procedural rights in the Therrien Employment Insurance case, said he was committed to improvements. “I can assure you that is my goal as commissioner,” said Friday. “Sensitivity training, a different organizational culture – it’s a very daunting challenge, but one we have certainly identified.”