New law protecting whistleblowers now in force

David Eby

CURRENT and past government employees who bring forward concerns about serious wrongdoing or who come under investigation have more protection, as the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) comes into force.

“This legislation protects whistleblowers if they speak up and requires that any investigation into allegations of serious wrongdoing will be administratively fair,” said David Eby, Attorney General. “It supports high standards of integrity and accountability in our public service, which British Columbians expect and deserve.”

Government passed the Public Interest Disclosure Act in May 2018 in response to the ombudsperson’s 2017 report, Misfire: The 2012 Ministry of Health Employment Terminations and Related Matters. The report made 41 recommendations aimed at preventing the recurrence of a similar situation in the public service, including a recommendation that government introduce whistleblower legislation. Government has accepted all the recommendations in the ombudsperson’s report.

PIDA allows whistleblowers to disclose concerns confidentially about issues that affect the public interest to designated officers within their organizations or to the Office of the Ombudsperson, an oversight body independent of government. The act protects employees who participate in PIDA investigations from reprisals, such as demotion or termination, and ensures employees under investigation are treated fairly. It also fosters transparency by requiring ministries and the ombudsperson to report the number of disclosures they receive and the results of any investigations they undertake each year.

PIDA is based on best practices from around the world. It currently applies to employees and former employees of all government ministries, including political staff, as well as employees in the independent offices of the legislature. Government plans to extend coverage of PIDA to other public sector organizations over the next five years, such as schools, universities, Crown corporations and health authorities.

“Having a legal framework that allows public employees to speak up about wrongdoing helps ensure accountability, transparency and integrity in government,” said Ombudsperson Jay Chalke.

“Whistleblowing allegations involve serious matters. I am confident that with the expertise of the investigative staff and policies that are in place at my office, both disclosers and those who have allegations made against them, will be treated fairly.”

In addition to investigating disclosures of wrongdoing, the Ombudsperson has the sole mandate under the new law to investigate if an employee believes they have been reprised against for bringing a concern forward.

“We at the Ombudsperson’s office will be applying 40 years of expertise we have in complaint handling and conducting rigorous and impartial investigations to our new mandate. We will of course continue to receive complaints from the public who feel they have been treated unfairly by a public sector organization as we always have, but now in addition any current or provincial government employee who either wants to report wrongdoing or reprisal in the workplace can turn to us. If they are unsure whether to make a report and want advice they can contact our office,” said Chalke.

Information about BC’s new Public Interest Disclosure Act and steps on how to get advice or make a disclosure to the Ombudsperson’s office can be found at www.bcombudsperson.ca

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