Disclosure of wrongdoings relating to public bodies: the Québec Ombudsman remains a go-to for protecting whistleblowers
Québec City, January 31, 2019 – In the wake of articles published this week concerning the firing of a whistleblower by the Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation, Ombudsperson Marie Rinfret wishes to issue a reminder about the possible recourse for anyone who wants to make a disclosure and enjoy the Québec Ombudsman’s protection.
"First, I want to point out that the situation that made the news this week does not stem from an investigation by the Québec Ombudsman. When a wrongdoing is brought to our attention, we use all necessary measures to ensure the protection of witnesses with full confidentiality. Thanks to our expertise, we can conduct investigations independently and impartially, which enables us to contribute to strengthening the integrity of public bodies," said Marie Rinfret.
Since the Act to facilitate the disclosures of wrongdoings relating to public bodies came into force on May 1, 2017, the Québec Ombudsman has been mandated to investigate disclosures. People who want to avail themselves of the measures under this Act may make a disclosure in complete confidentiality in addition to enjoying protection against possible reprisal. The provisions apply to the personnel of the bodies subject to the Act, to suppliers, to subcontractors or to anyone who knows that wrongdoing has occurred or is about to occur.
Protection against reprisal
If people who cooperated in a disclosure investigation believe they have suffered reprisal, the Act ensures their protection. Fines ranging from $2,000 to $250,000 that can be doubled for repeat offences may be imposed. Anyone who believes he or she is a victim of reprisal, which includes threats aimed at preventing disclosure, may file a complaint with the Québec Ombudsman. If reprisal is job-related (firing, suspension, etc.), a complaint may be made to the Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail.
Access to legal advice
Moreover, under certain conditions, free access to legal advice is available to people who want to make a disclosure or have already done so, or who feel they have suffered reprisal.
A few figures
Between May 1, 2017, and March 31, 2018, the Québec Ombudsman received 136 disclosures of wrongdoing. As at March 31, 2018, 101 files had been closed, 12 investigations were underway and 23 files were being audited or analyzed for admissibility.
For more information
For a complete list of the bodies subject to the Act, examples of wrongdoing that may be disclosed, the secure online forms for disclosure or a reprisal complaint, the procedure for access to free legal advice, and other useful information, see the Québec Ombudsman’s microsite at divulgation.protecteurducitoyen.qc.ca.
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Carole-Anne Huot, 418-646-7143