Investigation determines a transfer of funds was legitimate
A disclosure alleged public funds were illegitimately transferred between two public sector organizations through unsupported invoices. It was alleged this constituted a gross mismanagement of public funds.
The investigation found deficiencies in the authorization and approval of expenditures. The Management Board responsible had not fulfilled its duties relating to the preparation and approval of formal budgets, and the approval of financial commitments and expenditures.
Although the expenditures were not properly approved and financial arrangements were poorly documented, there was no indication attempts were made to transfer funds in a non-transparent manner. Moreover, the rationale for the expenditures was reasonable. The actions did not demonstrate a willful or reckless disregard for the proper management of public funds, and therefore did not constitute gross-mismanagement.
Extensive grievances do not warrant further involvement by Commissioner
A former employee of a school division made 34 allegations of wrongdoing against their former employer, the Board of Trustees, and the Superintendent. 19 of the allegations were determined to meet the definition of wrongdoing under the Act, however, the matters were already being addressed by more appropriate authorities; specifically, the Alberta Information & Privacy Commissioner, and the Alberta Human Rights Commission. Further, two of the matters were before the court as part of a judicial review.
In circumstances where allegations are jurisdictional to the Public Interest Commissioner, however they are already being addressed by a more appropriate authority or through the courts, the Commissioner may decline to investigate the matter.
Investigation finds no wrongdoing in discretionary decision to waive regulated requirements
It was alleged a senior manager within a government department contravened legislation by allowing individuals to conduct activities outside of regulated requirements. The investigation concluded the senior manager exercised discretion and made reasonable operational decisions which were permitted by the legislation. In this case, a wrongdoing did not occur.
Investigation concludes public school division did not create a danger to health and safety
A public school division was accused of creating a danger to the health and safety of staff and students following the discovery of mould in a dormitory-style residence. It was alleged the school division failed or neglected to maintain the residence resulting in mould contamination, and failed to respond to health and safety risks resulting from the mould.
The investigation found that although the presence of mould at the residence could have posed a potential health risk to certain individuals, the school division was not responsible for the maintenance of the residence; rather, the residence was owned by a private non-profit society and was leased to the school division. Further, the investigation concluded the school division responded appropriately when the mould was discovered by ensuring professional remediation occurred and by billeting students until the residence was deemed safe. The school division did not create a danger to the health and safety of individuals, and therefore wrongdoing did not occur.
Thorough investigation by public entity does not warrant further review by Commissioner
An employee of a public entity submitted a disclosure to the Public Interest Commissioner, dissatisfied with the outcome an internal investigation conducted by their designated officer. The internal investigation did not support a finding of wrongdoing. A review found the investigation conducted by the public entity was thorough and comprehensive. No new evidence was provided by the complainant to dispute the facts of the investigation. The Commissioner therefore concluded that another investigation was not required.
Issues already addressed prior to Commissioner’s involvement
An allegation was received that management within a school division was ignoring safety issues relating to the delivery of materials, contrary to the Traffic Safety Act. The complaint further alleged a recently retired manager had misused government funds by operating a personal business from a warehouse owned by the school division.
A preliminary investigation by our office found that the school division was aware of the matter and had already taken appropriate corrective action. The Commissioner therefore declined to investigate the matter further.
Alleged reprisal stemming from a change in position
An employee submitted a complaint of reprisal after his employer, a school division, elected to contract out the employee’s position and move the employee to a new position. The employee alleged the employment action was taken as a result of reporting wrongdoing to his employer involving an incident that occurred in 2013.
In this case, a review of the allegations found the employee did not make a disclosure under the Act – a necessary element required to receive protections under the Act. Further, the complaint did not provide any connection between the change in duties and the alleged incident which occurred four years prior.
Allegation of reprisal for having submitted a disclosure of wrongdoing
An employee within a provincial government department alleged he suffered a reprisal in the form of dismissal as a result of having submitted a disclosure of wrongdoing in the form of an email to the deputy minister.
Under the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act, an employee is protected from reprisal once they make a disclosure of wrongdoing to the Public Interest Commissioner or to their designated officer in accordance with the procedures established by their organization. A general complaint to a supervisor or to the administrative head of an organization does not automatically constitute a disclosure of wrongdoing.
An investigation into this complaint found the email sent to the deputy minister did not constitute a disclosure of wrongdoing. The email did not make any reference to the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act, or suggest that the email ought to be considered a disclosure under the Act. Therefore, the deputy minister could not have formed the intent to reprise against the employee for making a disclosure.
Employees who are concerned about wrongdoing in their organization are encouraged to seek advice from the Public Interest Commissioner or their designated officer as a first step. The employee can then receive advice on whether the matter is jurisdictional under the Act and the process for making a protected disclosure.
Investigation not required as issue already addressed by department
A disclosure alleged a department was not responding to complaints regarding the safety of children in care. The concerns were reviewed with the department and it was found the department was alive to the issues and was already addressing all of the concerns. An investigation was not initiated as it was determined the subject matter of the complaint was already appropriately being addressed by the department.
In certain circumstances, it is more efficient to make inquiries and review a disclosure with a public entity before initiating a full-scale investigation. Investigations can be time-consuming pulling government employees away from their work of delivering services to the public. In this case, our office was able to confirm quite quickly the subject-matter of the disclosure was already being addressed and a full-scale investigation was not required.
Often, due to privacy reasons, whistleblowers may be unaware of actions a department or public entity is taking in response to a complaint. Contacting a designated officer or the Public Interest Commissioner is an effective mechanism for employees to ensure their concerns about potential wrongdoing are being addressed.