Federal contractors should be covered by whistleblower protection, the Commons committee on government operations has been told. Witnesses yesterday complained of an active federal blacklist of contractors who report wrongdoing.
“The system is set up to attack the whistleblower,” said Don Garrett, owner of D.R. Garrett Construction Ltd. of Hope, B.C. “There’s a 3-D process: it’s deny, delay and eventual destruction of the whistleblower, and I’ve lived it.”
MPs are conducting a statutory review of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, the first since the law was introduced in 2007. Limited protections under the Act do not apply to federal contractors or 895,000 employees who work in federally-regulated industries – both deficiencies that should be corrected, witnesses said.
“I have lost my bonding status and my business is bankrupt,” said Garrett, a longtime plumbing contractor who complained the Department of Public Works concealed evidence of hidden asbestos on a 2008 job at the Kent penitentiary in Agassiz, B.C. “I was put out of business by the federal government,” he said.
“I was treated as a problem,” said Garrett, who said his company was placed on an “unofficial blacklist” after he challenged authorities. “Every effort was made to deny what happened and to punish me,” he said; “Where do I turn to now?”
Conservative MP Kelly McCauley (Edmonton West) described Garrett’s account as a “horror story”; “How do we protect private contractors working for the government so they can blow the whistle without having their lives ruined or seeing their companies blackballed?” said McCauley.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, gave MPs a 21,000-name petition appealing for whistleblower protection for contractors, federally-regulated employees, the RCMP and military. “Everyone needs to be protected including suppliers to the government,” said Conacher.
“Such protection is needed, not just for public sector workers but federally-regulated employees,” said Conacher; “You cannot have open government if whistleblowers are not protected fully and effectively.”
Conacher complained under the current Act there are no financial penalties against wrongdoers, and no method to name offenders. “You can hide people who are employed by the public who have done wrong,” said Conacher. “That’s just a bad idea.”
MPs have heard repeated testimony describing the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner as weak, indifferent and ineffectual. The Office was earlier cited by the Federal Court of Appeal for breaching a whistleblower’s right to procedural fairness. The ruling came in the case of a Department of Employment claims investigator fired after complaining staff were awarded bonuses to disqualify legitimate employment insurance applications.
By Tom Korski