While the second scheduled review of the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act (PIDA) is underway, Parkland Institute is releasing a timely report titled “Whistleblowers Not Protected: How the Law Abandons Those Who Speak Up in the Public Interest in Alberta,” by Cameron Hutchison, a professor of law at the University of Alberta.
“Whistleblowers are critical to serving the goals of accountability and transparency that check unbridled power and are at the foundation of a functioning democracy,” says Hutchison.
The current PIDA falls far short of international best practices for whistleblower protection. Worse, the legislation, and its interpretation by the Office of the Public Interest Commissioner (PIC) that investigates complaints, is laced with pitfalls through which few whistleblowers should ever dare to venture. As a result, there have been only three successful findings of wrongdoing since the legislation was enacted in 2012. All other employees who reported wrongdoing to the PIC did not receive protection.
“Even where wrongdoing is found, the legislation requires an employee to prove a connection between it and a workplace reprisal by the employer – something that is notoriously difficult to do,” says Hutchison.
This report focuses on laws that could mitigate the personal and professional consequences of whistleblowing specifically as it relates to Alberta. The report provides recommendations that include: amending the PIDA to afford liberal and remedial protection for whistleblowers; reforms that competently interpret and administer the act according to its remedial terms and provide adequate resources for the investigation of alleged wrongdoings and reprisals; taking into account the experiences and concerns of public service employees through an anonymous survey and help determine which legal reforms would encourage them to make disclosures; and encouraging private-sector employees be included under a revamped regime.
Hutchison believes Alberta needs a journalist shield law, and he also recommends that Alberta enact protection of public participation legislation modelled after the Ontario law.
“Successive Alberta governments have done virtually nothing to protect whistleblowers, confidential journalist sources and citizens who speak up in the public interest,” says Hutchison. “Among North American jurisdictions, Alberta is a laggard on all of these fronts. Strong legislation in these areas would help instill greater confidence in our institutions, inspire more democratic participation by citizens and ultimately lead to better governance.”
Cameron Hutchison is a professor of law at the University of Alberta. He publishes and teaches in the areas of intellectual property law, copyright law, statutory interpretation, and anti-corruption law. He is the author of numerous publications, including two books: Digital Copyright Law (Irwin law, 2016) and The Fundamentals of Statutory Interpretation (LexisNexis, 2018).
Parkland Institute is a non-partisan public policy research institute in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. “Whistleblowers Not Protected: How the Law Abandons Those Who Speak Up in the Public Interest in Alberta” is available for download on Parkland Institute’s website parklandinstitute.ca
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Parkland Institute communications co-ordinator