The Alberta government is opening the doors to public disclosure of wrongdoing in the public sector by introducing legislation that delivers on its promise to do business with greater openness and transparency.
The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act will apply to the Alberta Public Service, provincial agencies, boards and commissions, as well as academic institutions, school boards and health organizations. Under the proposed legislation, an Office of the Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner will be created to investigate and resolve complaints by employees who report: violations of provincial or federal law; acts or omissions that create a danger to the public or environment; and gross mismanagement of public funds.
“We promised a fundamental change in the way government works and this new act is a critical part of that pledge to Albertans,” said Premier Alison Redford. “By putting whistleblower protection in place, we will continue to lead the way in open, accountable government.”
The legislation will create a process for the disclosure of wrongdoing and protect from reprisal, such as wrongful dismissal, those employees who make a disclosure, said the government. The penalty for offences under the act is $25,000 for the first conviction to a maximum of $100,000 for subsequent offences.
The legislation would come into force upon proclamation expected on June 1, 2013. This will allow appropriate regulations to be developed and public bodies time to create policies and procedures to comply with the Act.
However, at first glance, the legislation is disappointing, said David Hutton, executive director of the whistleblower charity FAIR.
"It compels the whistleblower to enter a secretive, bureaucratic and tightly managed process which is likely to bury their allegations and is unlikely to protect anyone except the wrongdoers,” he said.
"Under the Alberta bill, it is unlikely that the public will ever learn the specifics of any wrongdoing, alleged or proven, and the whistleblower is in most circumstances forced to make their disclosure to the senior management of their own organization — a practice that has been denounced by our courts as a denial of due process."
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