Want to be a whistleblower? Tread carefully

Want to be a whistleblower? Tread carefully
For some workers, the ramifications for being an informant could be devastating.

If you suspect your employer is engaging in something that the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) might find illegal, now you can get paid for tipping them off.

Three people recently received $7.5 million after tips provided to the OSC resulted in a conviction against a company.

“Our Whistleblower program has proven to be a game-changer for the OSC’s enforcement efforts,” said Maureen Jensen, chair and CEO in a release. “This would not be possible without courageous individuals willing to come forward and provide valuable information about harm to Ontario’s capital markets.”

The program was instituted in 2016 and this is the first time that cash was paid out. It was modelled after a program launched by the American regulator, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, in 2012.

For those who want to check out the program, you can find information on the OSC’s website.

“Are you a whistleblower? Do you have knowledge of, or suspect, a possible violation of Ontario securities law that could harm investors? You may be eligible for a financial award of up to $5 million,” the site promises.

But for some workers, the ramifications for being an informant could be devastating.

Long-time employee Louis Robert, who worked for Quebec’s agriculture ministry, was fired earlier this year after he leaked documents outlining the dangers of phosphorus in the province’s farm industry.

“He gave a journalist at the public broadcaster an internal note. This document revealed a crisis unfolding in the provincial grain research body, Centre de recherche sur les grains (CÉROM). The leak triggered an internal investigation. Robert was suspended on Sept. 12 and put in limbo for over four months, the union says, until he was fired on Jan. 24,” said Carl Meyer in the National Observer.

Robert’s treatment shows the need for stronger protection, argues David Bernan, vice-president of the Syndicat de professionnelles et professionnels du gouvernement du Québec (SPGQ), the union that represents Robert.

“Cases like this are precisely why the (current Coalition Avenir Québec premier François) Legault government needs to revamp the woefully inadequate whistleblower protection introduced by the (former Liberal premier Philippe) Couillard government. While it was in opposition, the CAQ criticized the government’s whistleblower legislation as too weak and promised to review it. What happened to that promise?”

Robert at least has the protection of a union, and he grieved his termination.

But outcomes like this make many Canadians shudder at what might happen if they opened their mouths about internal wrongdoing.

For federal employees, the protection is not much better, according to a report on CBC.ca.

“Whistleblowers nearly always suffer career-ending reprisals. They’re blacklisted. They can’t find work again. They suffer from depression. They lose their home. They often lose their families,” according to David Hutton, whistleblower-protection advocate who works as senior fellow with the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Sylvie Therrien used to work for the employment insurance program, but she lost her job after alerting the media to department practices.

Hutton is part of the CFE Whistleblowing Initiative, that hopes to enable legislation with teeth.

“Our mission is to protect Canadian society by making responsible whistleblowing possible through effective protection for Canadian whistleblowers. This will enable Canadians to live and work with integrity and to combat misconduct that may threaten the well-being of our communities and our democracy,” according to a release.

In Alberta, the securities commission a recently launched a program, but “unlike Ontario’s whistleblower program, there are no financial incentives for whistleblowers whose tips lead to enforcement action under the ASC (Alberta Securities Commission) whistleblower program. The impact of the lack of financial incentive for whistleblowing is difficult to predict. The Ontario Securities Commission program does reward whistleblowers, but it is too early in that program’s life to know whether the possibility of an award is important to a whistleblower’s decision to come forward,” wrote Torys lawyers Andrew Gray, Rebecca L. Wise and Evan Dickinson on Mondaq

B.C. also introduced legislation to protect civil servants, but only if they keep the matters internal, according to the Vancouver Sun.

If your conscience is nagging you, there’s a lot to think about before deciding on what course of action to take. It may be the right thing to do, but you might also pay heavily for the decision.

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