Federal whistleblowers fear retaliation, report says

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federal officials are increasingly cynicalare skeptical and disillusioned with the idea of ​​reporting misconduct in public services, says a recent survey.

That pessimism is more “obvious and widespread” than before the pandemic, making bureaucrats more likely to fear retaliation for whistleblowing.

Research firm Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. submitted a report in March to the Public Sector Integrity Commission investigating serious human rights violations within the federal government.

Commissioner Joe Friday says there is a maze of oversight mechanisms available to public officials, and it can be discouraging or exhausting to figure out where to file a complaint.

He said that public officials are feeling more isolated and isolated during the pandemic, so they can move forward with confidence, not to mention collecting the kinds of documents that whistleblowers need. I think it’s getting harder.

Chris Aylward, president of the Canadian Public Service Alliance, says adequate protections against whistleblowers are inadequate and the regime needs to be strengthened.

“It’s disappointing to see federal workers grow even more. cynical Regarding whistleblowing and reporting of misconduct in the public service, it’s not surprising,” Aylward said in a statement.

“It is intimidating to come forward as a whistleblower and our members rightfully fear retaliation. We need strong measures to protect workers who speak up. There are too many conditions for restricting whistleblowers.”

A report based on nine focus group sessions held in March found workers feared a range of hypothetical consequences, many based on fears that confidentiality could be compromised. There is

These include the negative impact on the whistleblower’s physical or psychological well-being, lack of support, the idea of ​​gaining a reputation as a troublemaker, reduced trust and division among colleagues, and “damage to image or reputation.” “It is included. of public service. “

Some said they feared their careers would be derailed by being given poor grades, removed from projects, assigned less challenging tasks, or overloaded.

Compared to a similar report conducted in 2015, officials were more likely to say their attitudes toward whistleblowers had changed over time. This time, they described themselves as ‘less naive’, ‘more pessimistic’, ‘more pessimistic’. cynical,” “more exhausted‘, ‘less bright’, ‘more disillusioned’.

Workers tended to view whistleblowing as a good thing, describing whistleblowers as brave people who should be encouraged and supported. But they stressed that future whistleblowers “need to understand what they’re up against.”

Participants reported increased awareness and education about the misconduct reporting process, but did not trust it.

“Many held the view that such changes amounted to ‘signs of virtue’ or ‘garnishment,’ rather than constituting true cultural change,” the report said.

Just over half of the focus group participants were unaware of the office that commissioned the research in the first place.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, says Friday.

“If every civil servant wakes up every morning and the first thing on their mind is, ‘How do I bring wrongdoing to light,’ that means there is more wrongdoing than anyone thinks. I think it could suggest that there is,” he says.

Still, it’s clear that many people either don’t know how the whistleblowing process works, or don’t trust them if they do. “Obviously, there is still work to be done,” he says.

It can be frustrating to drive cultural change around a 300,000-person organization without influence or authority over the internal, department-specific procedures that govern much of the whistleblowing system, Friday said. increase.

Still, his 35-person office reached out to thousands of public officials at events and presentations over the course of the pandemic to keep the process simple.

During his seven years as Commissioner, and earlier as Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel, Friday gave a presentation that did not lead to a follow-up with someone in the audience who had considered reporting misconduct. I say I’ve never been there.

“We are talking about very personal things, and often times we haven’t told anyone yet,” he said, noting that the pandemic has cut down on face-to-face conversations. I lamented.

“We are doing our best to continue our outreach efforts.”

Mary Daniel Smith

canadian press

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