The following is an edited conversation with a whistleblower who disclosed an allegation of wrongdoing first to their employer, then to our office. To protect the whistleblower’s identity, we’ve removed details of the complaint, employer, and our investigation. But this individual’s comments illustrate the feeling many in the public service may have when they consider blowing the whistle, or coming forward with a concern.
What was it like to come forward to the Public Interest Commissioner’s office as a whistleblower?
I welcomed the opportunity, because I was so abysmally frustrated for so long. I had been making various inquiries as a professional, which is one of the things we do when we run into a difficult, perplexing problem. We consult with colleagues.
I didn’t know the legislation existed. So when I heard about it, I thought it was a good option going forward, if it came to that. And, of course, it did come to that.
As a whistleblower, you feel like you’re the fink in a jail. Aside from that feeling, though, I didn’t have a problem at all. Our management was simply unable or unwilling to take any kind of meaningful action regarding my concerns.
Did the possible stigma of being a whistleblower weigh on your mind?
Personally, it did not weigh on my mind at all. I just felt that I was doing the right thing in coming forward. The thing that bothered me in the back of my mind, and still does of course, was some kind of repercussion or reprisal. Whistleblowers tend to be rather unpopular, and are not appreciated for the most part.
The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act offers protection in the form of fines and sanctions for cases of reprisal. Having come forward as a whistleblower, and having gone through the entire disclosure and investigation process, is that protection significant enough for you?
I thought that was definitely on the plus side, for sure. Undoubtedly, the Act does provide protection. It’s good that the fines are built in there.
When you came forward, and disclosed your concerns to our office, how did that proceed? What was that encounter like?
I was marinating in frustration, and stressed. Once it was clarified that the Public Interest Commissioner would look into this, I didn’t see any problems at all. The investigation was very thorough. It took awhile, but that was perfectly fine with me.
The thing that was a worry for me in the back of my mind was, ‘How will I be perceived by this office? Will I be perceived as a credible individual, or will I be perceived as some sort of malcontent with an axe to grind, who’s trying to further my own agenda? Are his complaints even valid? Is he trying to stir up trouble?’
For me, the really good news was that the investigation was so thorough. I said to the investigators, ‘What I’d like you folks to do is assume is everything I’ve said is flat out wrong, inaccurate, biased or faulty in some way. Assume that, and go through it in detail. And see if you can find something that’s wrong here.’
Do you have a message or advice to share with other potential whistleblowers?
It’s an individual thing. What goes through the average person’s mind is difficult to say. Some people are frankly paranoid. They think if they go forward, it’s going to come back and bite them. They may not believe the legislation is credible, or because it’s a new thing and people don’t know about, they may have more questions in their mind than answers.
I felt confident in the office. I really did. But that was me.
If you have any questions or concerns, give the office a call. My dealings with this office were very positive. People were very professional. I’m used to working in an environment where there’s an assortment of mismatched individuals that either lack experience, or don’t see eye to eye on things. I’m not trying to beat up on our manager. I think these kind of problems can be synonymous with bureaucratic organizations. Some of these problems tend to creep in.
I didn’t get any of that in my communications with this office. People were calm, reasonable, professional. People didn’t seek to immediately discredit everything I said.
Past investigations related to my complaint were often cursory. My manager wouldn’t read my emails. I wanted an exhaustive investigation.
My big relief was the office was competent, and thorough, and took me seriously.