Below are examples of the type of issues and complaints our office typically looks into. Not all complaints received are jurisdictional, and sometimes it’s more appropriate for a public authority to review the matter (in the case of a human resources issue, for example). In other instances, a public authority’s Designated Officer may be the proper path.
If you’re unsure whether your complaint or concern falls under our mandate, or what steps you should take, contact our office at any point.
INVESTIGATION LEADS TO RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE PATIENT MANAGEMENT
Following a whistleblower complaint, an investigation found hospital staff did not follow the Standards of Practice and breached the Health Professions Act relating to the transfer and discharge of a patient.
Recommendations were made by the Commissioner for the improvement in patient management. These recommendations were delivered to Alberta Health Service’s CEO to improve or make changes where required. These were accepted, and AHS developed and instituted a response plan to address the recommendations of the Commissioner.
ALLEGATIONS OF IMPROPER HIRING AND PAYMENT OF STAFF
A whistleblower alleged a Minister circumvented requirements in the Public Service Act and directed the Department hire a certain individual for their office. It was also alleged expenses for the employee were hidden at the direction of the Minister.
The investigation concluded the hiring was compliant with the Public Service Act and no public funds were reimbursed to the employee for any expenses. The investigation encompassed a thorough review of disbursements by the Department and the employees personal financial records. The whistleblower was satisfied with the outcome, and remained anonymous.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT PATH FOR A DISCLOSURE
A concerned Alberta Health Services employee contacted our office seeking information.
After reviewing details of the allegation, our office suggested the employee contact the Designated Officer for AHS. While the health authority has an internal safe disclosure policy, our advice to this employee – and to any employee in a similar situation – is to clearly advise an internal Designated Officer their complaint is being made under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act (the Act).
This is an important distinction to make, as AHS’s safe disclosure and whistleblower policy is intended to investigate complaints of improper activity, while the Act is intended to investigate serious and significant allegations of wrongdoing and to protect employees from reprisal. As always, our office stands ready to assist and advise employees at any stage of their disclosure – or, in this case, even prior to making a disclosure.
TIME THEFT ALLEGATION REFERRED TO DESIGNATED OFFICER
An employee of a provincial government department contacted our office, concerned two managers were falsely reporting time and were covering for each other. The employee was referred to their Designated Officer, though we did remind the complainant they could return the matter to our office if an investigation was not conducted, if they were dissatisfied with the outcome or if a reprisal was taken against them.
ALLEGATIONS DO NOT MEET THRESHOLD OF WRONGDOING
When our office receives an allegation of wrongdoing, sometimes that same disclosure has been brought to the attention of a public entity – and the entity is actively working to resolve the issue.
That’s what occurred when a disclosure alleging gross mismanagement of public funds on the part of a President and CEO of a post-secondary institution was received.
Through the course of the investigation a further allegation concerning a conflict of interest surfaced. We determined the allegation of gross mismanagement did not reach a threshold of wrongdoing and did not result from a deliberate action. As well, we were satisfied the potential conflict of interest allegation was considered by the Board of Trustees prior to the awarding of the contract and was addressed. As the institution’s Board of Governors was also aware of the concerns and were dealing with potential mismanagement, the Public Interest Commissioner was confident the appropriate oversight and actions were being taken.
To alleviate employee concerns, we advised the institution to share with staff the efforts they are taking to deal with the situation.
ANONYMOUS ALLEGATIONS PROVE NON-JURISDICTIONAL
An anonymous caller reported allegations of fraud on the part of a municipal council and public officials in a village in Alberta. The caller advised residents unsuccessfully petitioned the Minister to conduct an inquiry, and RCMP were unable to investigate the allegations without direction from the department.
Because the nature of the complaint was non-jurisdictional, our office provided alternate options to the caller to help address their concerns.
CONCERN OVER ALLEGATIONS LEADS TO EXPEDITED REVIEW
The Public Interest Commissioner received a disclosure alleging a provincial government department was failing to respond to water quality reports from treatment facilities, placing the health and safety of the public at risk.
Our office treats all allegations seriously. These allegations prompted an expedited review of the disclosure and a meeting with the whistleblower, where substantial information and supporting documentation was provided to our investigator.
We determined the matter did not constitute an imminent risk to the life, health or safety of individuals. Therefore, we referred the employee to the government’s Designated Officer for review. Because the employee already spent significant time explaining the matter to our investigator, the complainant authorized the Public Interest Commissioner to forward details of the allegations in order to speed and simplify the disclosure.
Because of the nature of the allegations, we also requested the Designated Officer keep our office up to date on the status and outcome of the disclosure. Ultimately, the matter was concluded to the satisfaction of the employee.
COMMISSIONER UNABLE TO ACT ON ANONYMOUS DISCLOSURE
An anonymous letter was received alleging a manager within a provincial government department was improperly sole-sourcing contracts. Because limited information was provided and with no means of contacting the anonymous person, the Public Interest Commissioner was unable to take further action on the matter.
While steps are taken to ascertain and validate information, a disclosure requires adequate information that would permit a fair and effective investigation.
In cases where we receive an anonymous complaint and do not initiate an investigation, we are required to advise the Chief Officer, which we did in this case.
COMPLAINANT UNSATISFIED WITH ENTITY’S INTERNAL REVIEW
The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act allows a whistleblower to bring a disclosure of wrongdoing to the Commissioner when they are dissatisfied with the decision of an entity following an internal investigation.
In this case, the allegations related to a procurement process at a public entity and a potential conflict of interest. The entity had completed an internal investigation and the finding of the Designated Officer was that no wrongdoing occurred.
Our office accepted the disclosure and conducted an additional investigation, including interviews, to confirm details and facts.
Ultimately, the finding of the Public Interest Commissioner was consistent with the decision of the entity. Our investigation revealed the whistleblower did not fully understand the rationale for the entity’s decision; we were able to provide clarity for them.
This case demonstrated how a review by an independent office can assist both the whistleblower and a public entity by alleviating perceptions of bias and facilitating understanding and resolutions.