Tuesday September 02, 2014

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    Whistleblowers who risk jobs need legal protection: privacy rights organization

    VICTORIA - A privacy rights organization that has spent years lobbying the British Columbia government to protect people who risk their jobs by leaking information is joining the province's auditor general in calling for a whistleblower protection law.

    Public information does not always come in the form of government-sanctioned news releases, said Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.

    People who choose to provide information in a "brown envelope" on condition they are not identified deserve legal protection for their public service, he said, adding the government employees are "taking it on their own head."

    Gogolek said his association appeared before the government's all-party special committee to review the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act in February 2010.

    The association recommended protections for whistleblowers be set out in law, but the committee's report did not contain a whistleblower law recommendation, he said.

    When the government amended the privacy act in November 2011, whistleblower protection was not part of the new law.

    Gogolek said the association hands out whistleblower of the year awards, and in 2007 gave the award to Gord McAdams, a former B.C. government employee who was fired hours before he was due to retire for leaking sensitive park boundary documents.

    McAdams was later able to recover his lost retirement benefits through a union grievance.

    In a report released Thursday, auditor general John Doyle said he was concerned about B.C.'s lack of protection for whistleblowers, especially since two major investigations conducted by his office this year relied heavily on information provided by government employees.

    Doyle's report stated he can offer whistleblowers anonymity if people come forward to his office, but that same protection doesn't extend to their jobs.

    The report also said a whistleblower contacted Doyle's office last March about alleged inappropriate activities within the Pharmaceutical Services Division of the Ministry of Health.

    In September, Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced an ongoing investigation into alleged abuse of the drug research grant process and the firing of seven government employees.

    Two of the seven workers, Malcolm Maclure and Ron Mattson, an elected member of suburban Victoria's View Royal council, have filed lawsuits, alleging defamation.

    Christopher Siver, Mattson's lawyer, said he supports a law that protects whistleblowers even if the information they provide is not correct.

    Doyle told Victoria radio station CFAX on Friday that the whistleblower came to his office and provided information that prompted the Health Ministry investigation, which continues.

    Doyle said it's inevitable that the identity of the whistleblower will become public but there's little protection for the person.

    He called for a law that permits a "professional approach to concerns raised in good faith."

    The Finance Ministry issued a statement saying government employees swear an oath of service and agree to abide by standards of conduct that state employees have a duty to report and will not be subject to discipline or employer reprisals.

    The statement said protection from reprisals for all employees is already in place through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and in collective agreements with union members.


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