City of Laval beefs up its ‘whistleblower’ policy

New rules established to protect citizens who allege wrongdoing

Saying they remain committed to reaching a level of respect that’s in keeping with the highest standards for integrity and ethics, officials with the City of Laval are taking measures to improve the municipality’s rules and regulations for “whistleblowers” to report suspected ethical breaches and possible acts of corruption.

Among the important additions to the city’s existing whistleblower policy approved by Laval city council during its Oct. 4 public meeting were new measures to protect those who report alleged wrongdoing, and a prohibition on retribution against whistleblowers.

Encouraging transparency

“The new version of the Reporting Policy demonstrates the leadership being taken by the city on issues concerning integrity and ethics,” said Laval Police Dept. director Pierre Brochet, who has responsibilities for monitoring ethics and integrity issues within the city.

“We made some adjustments as regards criteria for receivability and the treatment procedures for reports,” he added. “The proposed changes will also encourage transparency, while building up the trust of whistleblowers towards the process used by the BIELT for treating reports.”

Some criteria to be met

With the new policy now in place, the city wants to raise awareness among residents of the mechanisms for reporting suspected wrongdoing confidentially. However, it should be noted that to be receivable, a reported allegation has to meet certain criteria to be defined as a “reprehensible act” as stated in the policy. For example:

  • Illicit activities can include theft, collusion and corruption;
  • Offences can include the violation of specific rules governing public contracts;
  • This can also include serious cases of mismanagement;
  • Or the abuse of authority and use of retribution;
  • There can also be issues involving the abusive use of city resources.

History of whistleblowing

While the term “whistleblower” at one time carried negative connotations and was regarded as a synonym for an informer or a snitch, American consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader is said to have popularized use of the phrase more positively, so that now it usually describes a person who reveals information about unethical, illegal, unsafe or fraudulent activities within a private or public organization.

The United States, where openness and freedom of expression tend to be encouraged, has been a breeding ground for whistleblowers and the positive changes they have often been able to achieve through their actions. One of the earliest examples to be dramatized was the 1973 film Serpico, starring Al Pacino at the beginning of his career, as a New York City Police Dept. officer who’d had enough of corruption within the NYPD.

Serpico and Silkwood

A decade later, Meryl Streep starred in Silkwood, about nuclear energy technician Karen Silkwood, a labour union activist who testified to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission about health and safety abuses at the nuclear facility where she worked. Later almost inexplicably, she and her home were found to be contaminated by plutonium, and she died in a car crash under circumstances regarded as suspicious.

The federal government’s Competition Bureau of Canada provides extensive information on the protections afforded to whistleblowers, while defining a whistleblower as “a person who voluntarily provides information to the Competition Bureau about a possible past, present, or future violation of the Competition Act.”

Confidentiality issues

According to the agency, the Competition Act includes specific provisions for protecting the identity of whistleblowers. Under the act, once the Bureau has provided an assurance of confidentiality to a whistleblower, the individual’s identity cannot be revealed without the individual’s consent.

However, while potential whistleblowers can decide how much personal information to provide, the Competition Bureau says it may be impossible to respond to a request or provide whistleblower protections that exist under the Competition Act if whistleblowers don’t provide a name or other information.

Whistleblower protections

Under the federal Competition Act, an employer cannot dismiss, suspend, demote, discipline, harass or otherwise disadvantage or deny a whistleblower employment because he or she provided information under the whistleblowing program that was given in good faith.

The Competition Bureau says whistleblowers are also protected by other laws, including the Canadian Criminal Code, making it an offence for an employer to take disciplinary measures, or to threaten to do so, because the employee provided or planned to provide information to someone who enforces federal law.