Expanding whistleblower protections in British Columbia will allow the government to better understand issues of concern at the public service level, the attorney general said.
Protections under the Public Interest Disclosure Act were extended on Friday to employees of most provincial courts, agencies, boards and commissions, joining about 35,000 ministry employees and employees of independent offices of the legislature, said David Eby.
The law, which took effect in December 2019, allows employees to share information about possible wrongdoing that affects the public interest with designated officers or the Office of the Ombudsman without retaliation.
More employees of agencies, boards and commissions will be covered by the protections later this year as the government pursues a phased approach to implementing the law in the public sector, Eby said.
“The benefit of doing it in phases like this is to make sure that the training and the communications are in place, so that those complaints are dealt with properly and that the tools are in place for the ombudsman to conduct proper investigations,” he said in an interview.
Employees of health authorities and the education sector will be covered by the law for the next two years, Eby said.
The BC government’s budget tabled last February indicated that there were more than 500,000 people in the public sector, which includes the core civil service, crown corporations and agencies, and health care employees. , community social services, public education and post-secondary institutions.
“This program is essential for me to have increased confidence that if people see wrongdoing or a violation of the civil service code, they have a way to report it so that we can deal with it at the political level. “Eby said.
Whistleblower protections also give employees the confidence to report issues of concern, he said.
“Being in the office where I work, I know I have no idea what’s going on day-to-day at a civil service level,” Eby said. “If there is a problem with anybody, if there is a corruption problem, a bullying problem, a problem of any type of integrity problem, it is very difficult for me as a minister to know that this is happening.”
A lawyer for the British Columbia Government Employees Union told the province’s public inquiry into money laundering last year that better whistleblower protections for frontline casino workers might have be prevented from circulating illegal money in gambling halls.
The Whistleblower Protection Act was introduced following a report by mediator Jay Chalke into the 2012 firing of eight Department of Health workers, one of whom later died by suicide.
Chalke said Friday he supports the phased approach, which allows government and agencies to learn to work with the law.
He said his office opened 10 investigations under the Public Interest Disclosure Act in the year ending March 31, 2021.
The only investigation that reached completion stage found no wrongdoing but made a recommendation for improvement to the government, Chalke said.
“The good thing is that so far people are coming forward,” he said in an interview.
The office’s annual report includes the message “Speak Up. You can make a difference.”
“This whole notion of a speaking culture is baked into whistleblower laws and I think the best public agencies see it and want it to happen,” Chalke said.
– Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press