The Québec Ombudsman subscribes to the goals of Bill 87 and proposes improvements for optimal enforcement
Québec City, February 9, 2016 –“If the goal of the future Act is to make the disclosure of wrongdoings easier and to establish a system for protecting against reprisals, it will also enable swift action upstream to prevent wrongdoings, in the public interest.”
This is how Ombudsperson Raymonde Saint-Germain sees it. Today she presented a brief on Bill 87, An Act to facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoings within public bodies. While subscribing to its goals, she nonetheless proposes improvements aimed at making the process fully effective and sustainable.
Madam Saint-Germain considers that the Bill is consistent with the main recognized international standards for disclosure of wrongdoings and protection against reprisal. She feels that with over 500 institutions, bodies and entities subject to it, along with some 681,000 employees, the Act is ambitious. In fact, the mandate given to the Québec Ombudsman would be broader than that of the seven other parliamentary ombudsmen with that jurisdiction in Canada.
As the Ombudsperson sees it, the following conditions are crucial to the success of the mechanism:
- Prospective whistleblowers’ trust in the system;
- Protection of confidentiality;
- Protection of whistleblowers against all forms of reprisal;
- Respect of the presumption of innocence and protection of the reputations of those against whom yet unproven, and possibly, unfounded, allegations have been made;
- the quality (relevance, promptness and comprehensiveness) of investigations and respect for those involved;
- the collection, preservation and quality of evidence with a view to any legal recourse;
- the ability to act quickly to prevent wrongdoings about to be committed, or if wrongdoing occurs, to limit the damage.
The Québec Ombudsman considers that Bill 87 is likely to meet these conditions. However, it has nonetheless made 15 recommendations with a view to ensuring its optimal enforcement. It recommends the following in particular:
- Broaden the scope of the Bill by including wrongdoings committed not only within public bodies, but also with regard to public bodies;
- Amend the Municipal Ethics and Good Conduct Act to make municipal employees subject to the Bill or to include municipalities in the list of bodies subject to the Bill;
- Strengthen protection against reprisal for whistleblowers who are not “on the pay roll;”
- Increase the obligation for public bodies to cooperate within the context of the functions that would devolve to the Québec Ombudsman;
- Give the Québec Ombudsman access to the premises of public bodies;
- Give the Québec Ombudsman the power to suggest reforms and to intervene on its own initiative;
- Provide for the obligation of public bodies to report on the number of disclosures received and on the number of substantiated disclosures.
The Ombudsperson wrapped up the presentation by insisting on the fact that the appropriate resources—much less hefty than if a new disclosure organization were created—will be essential if the mechanism is to fully achieve the goals so long desired by many, as much for disclosure as for the protection of whistleblowers against reprisal.
For all comments and recommendations, see the Québec Ombudsman’s brief (PDF, 106 KB).
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Carole-Anne Huot, 418 646-7143/418 925-7994