Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR)

Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR)

What Happened

On October 15 2012, David Hutton, FAIR’s representative on the Federal Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (PSIC) advisory committee, was removed from his position by the Commission’s head, Mario Dion. The PSIC investigates allegations of wrongdoing brought forward by whistleblowers, and attempts to protect them from workplace reprisals.

This removal follows the publication of a critical letter by David Hutton in the Ottawa Citizen where he denounced the PSIC for never having properly investigated a complaint or protecting a whistleblower since its creation in 2007. FAIR’s removal was protested by Democracy Watch and Canadians for Accountability, both of which were members of the PSIC’s advisory committee. They resigned amidst a slurry of critical remarks concerning the PSIC’s effectiveness, fairness and transparency.

The Federal Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (PSIC) is an office that provides a “safe and confidential” structure to disclose cases of bad practice in government institutions, as well as protection from reprisals. The PSIC achieves this by investigating complaints brought to its attention by whistleblowers concerning potential wrongdoings in the public sector, and by investigating complaints of reprisals against whistleblowers.

The PSIC office is led by Commissioner Dion, appointed by the Senate and House of Commons. The advisory committee is composed of independent organizations, including FAIR, and members of the public sector, to provide “fair and equitable solutions to issues” raised. It seeks to be a structure allowing for stakeholders to participate in consultation and form recommendations.

FAIR’s Executive Director, David Hutton, was FAIR’s representative on the advisory committee.

On October 15, 2012, David Hutton lost his position on the advisory committee as FAIR was permanently removed from its advisory role by the Commissioner.

Reportedly, Commissioner Dion’s reason for the removal was a critical letter published by David Hutton in the Ottawa Citizen on October 13 in which he accused the PSIC of being a “‘black hole’ into which [whistleblowers] deposit serious allegations but hear nothing back - and nothing happens as a result.”

David Hutton claimed that since the PSIC’s foundation in 2007, FAIR has received over 30 calls from whistleblowers who have tried to expose their grievances through PSIC and found that “their allegations do not seem to be properly investigated” and that they most often than not receive a rejection letter with no evidence supporting how this decision was reached.

David Hutton argues that since the PSIC is the only recourse available to whistleblowers, any failure of the PSIC jeopardizes the career of brave employees who denounce malpractice. This has created a “shameful situation,” according to him.

The PSIC’s reaction to this article was the removal David Hutton from his position on the advisory committee. Commissioner Dion’s explanation was that Hutton was “constantly undermining the work of [the] office in the media,” and thus “discouraging potential whistleblowers from coming forward.”

In response to this removal, Democracy Watch and Canadians for Accountability, two other organizations that held positions on the advisory committee, resigned from their posts in protest on October 23, 2012 and voiced considerable discontent with the PSIC.

According to Democracy Watch, the Commissioner’s decision was “unfair” and he “is trying to use the committee to keep criticism of his office secret and behind closed doors.”

Canadians for Accountability echoed that they “will not be muzzled,” nor will they “support an environment where openness, transparency and good governance are not respected.”

These same groups, FAIR, Democracy Watch and Canadians for Accountability, had previously spoken out against the appointment of Commissioner Dion by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, arguing that his appointment was “rammed through Parliament with little opportunity for dissent, debate or reflection.”

For now, the PSIC will have to do without the expert advice of these key organizations, having alienated them from participating in government-instituted whistleblower protection.

Relevant Dates:

  • December 14, 2011: Mario Dion is appointed as Public Sector Integrity Commissioner and leads the PSIC advisory committee.
  • October 13, 2012: David Hutton, FAIR’s Executive Director writes a letter in the Ottawa Citizen, criticizing the PSIC.
  • October 15, 2012: FAIR is removed from the Advisory Committee of the PSIC by Commissioner Dion.
  • October 23, 2012: Democracy Watch and Canadians for Accountability resign in protest.

Role or Position

The Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR) is a charitable organization with a mandate to “support legislation and management practices” that protect government-employed whistleblowers. FAIR understands that protecting whistleblowers promotes freedom of speech in the workplace, government transparency and is in the interest of the Canadian public. Without protective legislation, whistleblowers can be subject to retaliation within their workplace.

FAIR seeks to enact its vision of support and positivity towards “truth-tellers” by documenting and disseminating information, advocating for improvement of whistleblower legislation and offering guidance and support to whistleblowers who denounce malpractice in governmental institutions.

Implications and Consequences

  • Freedom of Speech: It would seem, according to the accounts of FAIR, Canadians for Accountability and Democracy Watch, that the PSIC is simply not living up to its mandate of thoroughly investigating allegations of wrongdoing and protecting whistleblowers. Without a support network that will take these allegations seriously and protect whistleblowers from reprisals, employees are likely to be less safe in denouncing malpractice and will remain silent in cases where they would have voiced dissent.
  • Democracy: The inefficiencies of the PSIC undermine our democratic system by failing to provide adequate checks and balances and protection for freedom of speech. Without the voices of whistleblowers, malpractice in government that could lead to misappropriation of funds and other government scandals would not be averted or brought to the public eye. A democracy gives voices to all for the bettering of everyone’s condition and clearly whistleblowers have a key position in keeping government accountable.
  • Transparency: One of the problems with the PSIC is its seeming lack of transparency. As David Hutton explained in his letter, the PSIC currently gives no explanation for denying an investigation of allegations. It gives whistleblowers no way of knowing if their case was taken seriously.

Date published: 1 March 2013

Photo from FAIR.