Case Summaries 2016-2017

Allegations referred to designated officer
20 April 2016

The discloser reported concerns with hiring practices, training and the enforcement of policies at a correctional facility. The disclosers concerns were that poor hiring practices and training may impact operations at the correctional facility.  The discloser had not yet utilized the procedures for making a disclosure internally and the matter was subsequently referred to the Designated Officer for the Government of Alberta.

An employee may return a matter to the Public Interest Commissioner if they are dissatisfied with the action taken by the Designated Officer.  In this case, the matter was not returned to the Public Interest Commissioner.


Allegations against a private school

30 May 2016

It was alleged a private school was contravening the Private School Regulation by using non-certificated teachers, had misled the Department of Education in order to secure additional funding, and was misappropriating public funds.

The investigation did not support a finding of wrongdoing.  The investigation did identify concerns with the Department’s process of approving private school applications and private school monitoring, and deficiencies in the private school’s record keeping.  Additional details of this case are available in a report published by the Commissioner.


Allegation of non-compliant regulated professional

02 June 2016

An employee alleged a regulated professional was practicing without maintaining their registration obligations with their college. The matter was referred to the Chief Officer of the affected entity.

The Chief Officer subsequently reported back to the Commissioner that the matter had already been addressed and corrective action was taken.  The Chief Officer further reported implementing additional safeguards and annual monitoring for regulated professionals.


Allegations relating to a procurement at a provincial corporation

14 June 2016

A disclosure alleged a provincial corporation grossly mismanaged public funds by entering into a service contract valued at $1M without a justifiable need. The disclosure also alleged collusion during the procurement of a consultant.

The disclosure was referred to the Chief Officer of the corporation and an investigation was undertaken by the Designated Officer.  The Designated Officer concluded wrongdoing had not occurred – The purchase of the service contact was a requirement and was part of the corporation’s existing strategic goals and objectives.  The Designated Officer further demonstrated collusion did not occur and that the procurement followed the policies and procedures in place.

The outcome was reported to the Commissioner and subsequently to the discloser.  The discloser was satisfied with the outcome of the investigation.


A complaint more appropriately addressed under the Health Professions Act

16 June 2016

A physician submitted a complaint of reprisal alleging three supervisors took reprisal action against them. The physician further made 29 allegations of wrongdoing against their supervisors.

An analysis of the complaints found the allegations did not meet the criteria of “wrongdoing” as defined in the Act; rather, they related to standards of practice and professional conduct issues best addressed under the Health Professions Act or Medical Staff Bylaws. The complaints also related to human resource issues and contractual matters between the complainant and their employer.

The investigation of the alleged reprisal found the employee did not seek advice or make a protected disclosure to either the designated officer or the Public Interest Commissioner, and therefore, a reprisal could not have occurred as a result of either of those actions.  An employee is protected from reprisal once they seek advice or make a disclosure to their designated officer or to the Public Interest Commissioner.


Complaint relating to code of conduct and ethics for the public service
05 July 2016

An anonymous employee alleged a senior manager within the Government of Alberta was instructing staff to order food for office meetings from a franchise owned by the manager.  The matter was determined to be more appropriately addressed under the Code of Conduct and Ethics for the Public Service of Alberta, and did not meet the definition of wrongdoing under the Act.  The complaint was forwarded to the Deputy Minister of the department for appropriate action.

Although this case was more appropriately addressed under a different mechanism, the employee who contacted our office was subsequently afforded protections under the Act.  Regardless if a wrongdoing occurred, an employee receives protection simply by seeking advice from the Public Interest Commissioner.


Employee with management concerns referred to designated officer

06 July 2016

A disclosure was received from an employee relating to management practices within a branch of the Department of Justice. However, the employee had not yet made a disclosure to their Designated Officer.  The employee was referred to their Designated Officer and was advised they may return the matter to the Public Interest Commissioner if they are dissatisfied with the outcome.  Ultimately, the matter was not returned to the Public Interest Commissioner for further investigation.


Allegations relating to the
Employment Standards Code
02 August 2016

An employee submitted a disclosure of wrongdoing to their Designated Officer and concurrently to the Public Interest Commissioner, as permitted in the Act. It was alleged operating procedures adopted by a branch within a government department contravened the Employment Standards Code; specifically complainants were not being served with notification when a decision is made to refuse to investigate a complaint.

The matter was investigated by the designated officer who did not support a finding of wrongdoing.  It was found that in certain cases, the complainants did not provide current or up-to-date contact information and could therefore not be contacted.  The procedure placed the complaint in abeyance for a period of time pending the complainant re-contacting the department.  The designated officer found the procedure did not contravene the Employment Standards Code.

The employee was dissatisfied with the Designated Officer’s investigation and returned the matter to the Public Interest Commissioner.  The Commissioner conducted further investigation of the matter and supported the Designated Officer’s findings.


Alleged interference in a procurement process

06 September 2016

The employee concurrently made a disclosure to their designated officer and to the Public Interest Commissioner, as permitted in the Act. The disclosure alleged interference in the selection of a vendor by a government department.  It was alleged a team evaluating proposals had recommended a vendor, however another department became involved in the process and influenced the outcome.  An alternate vendor was subsequently awarded the contract.

The Designated Officer investigated the matter and concluded a wrongdoing had not occurred.  The investigation found the second department was part of the evaluation process.  The Deputy Minister considered the advice of the evaluation team and the second department, then subsequently selected a vendor.  The decision to select the vendor was therefore made by the Deputy Minister who is ultimately responsible for managing the affairs of the department.

The employee did not request the Public Interest Commissioner investigate the matter further.


Alleged risk to health and safety following water line breaks

14 September 2016

The discloser alleged that two depressurization events of the water distribution system in Town of Stony Plain, were followed by inadequate flushing, presenting a risk to the life, health or safety of individuals.

The investigation examined the response of Alberta Health Services and the Department of Environment and Parks.  The investigation concluded no contraventions of statutes or regulations occurred; AHS and the department responded to the event appropriately and there was no risk to the life, health or safety to the public. Further details of this case can be found in a report published by the Commissioner.


Allegations of gross mismanagement

06 October 2016

An employee alleged management within an AHS department was grossly mismanaging public funds by circumventing policies and procedures governing the planning and financing of projects.

The investigation concluded the department did not grossly mismanage funds and complied with applicable AHS policies.  Additional details of this case are available in a report published by the Commissioner.


Alleged reprisal as the result of declining to participate in wrongdoing

19 October 2016

An employee alleged management within an AHS department reprised against them as a result of the employee declining to participate in a wrongdoing. The Act protects employees who decline to participate in a wrongdoing prior to a protected disclosure being made.

The investigation concluded the employee did not decline to participate in the alleged wrongdoing, but rather negotiated authorization in exchange for participation in activities which, ultimately, were not wrongdoing.  Additional details of this case are available in a report published by the Commissioner.


Alleged reprisal not the result of making a disclosure

07 November 2016

An employee alleged their employment was terminated as a result of submitting a disclosure of wrongdoing to their Designated Officer.

The investigation did not support a finding of reprisal.  The employee had been placed on paid administrative leave pending a HR investigation into separate matters.  The investigation found the employee contravened privacy legislation and the Code of Conduct while on probation.  The employee was subsequently terminated from their position.  The decision to terminate the employee was not the result of the employee making a disclosure under the Act.


Alleged reprisal stemming from the non-renewal of employment contract

08 November 2016

A complaint of reprisal was submitted alleging the employee’s fixed term contract was not renewed as the result of their contact with our office.

The investigation found a history of conflict between the employee and their employer which culminated in the decision not to renew their contract of employment.  These events occurred prior to the employee contacting our office.  The investigation found no nexus between the employee contacting our office and the public entity’s decision not to renew the employee’s contract of employment.

An employer is not restricted from making reasonable human resource management decisions in good faith.


Alleged use of non-certified teachers in a private school

21 November 2016

A disclosure alleged contraventions of the School Act at a private school, specifically relating to individuals teaching classes who are not certified teachers.

A review of the matter determined Alberta Education was already conducting an investigation.  An investigation was therefore not initiated by the Commissioner as the matter was already being addressed through an alternate process.  The employee was satisfied with this process as they were able to receive protections under the Act while also having the department of Education investigate the matter.


Alleged reprisal for seeking advice

26 January 2017

An employee with a funded private school contacted the Public Interest Commissioner’s office requesting information about making a disclosure of wrongdoing concerning the members of the school board.  After reviewing the whistleblower’s concerns, it was determined the concerns did not meet the definition of wrongdoings under the Act.  The employee was provided with information on other avenues to address their concerns.

The employee subsequently submitted a complaint of reprisal to the Commissioner alleging employment action had been taken against them as the result of previously contacting our office. Following an investigation, the Commissioner determined the employee and the members of the board had a long-standing conflict, which resulted in the employment action taken by the board.  The employment action was not the result of the employee contacting our office.


Anonymous complaint results in prompt action by public entity

06 February 2017

It was alleged executive(s) with a public entity attended conferences sponsored by suppliers and took extra days for social activities that were then billed back to the public entity.

However, the disclosure did not provide adequate particulars about the alleged wrongdoing.  As the disclosure was made anonymously, further details and clarity could not be obtained.  The information was provided to the Chief Officer of the public entity for consideration.  The Chief Officer promptly responded instructing the Ethics Officer to investigate the matter and to report the outcome to the Board of Directors.


Insufficient information provided in alleged gross-mismanagement
14 February 2017

An anonymous disclosure was made alleging gross-mismanagement of public funds by a private school.  However, the disclosure did not provide adequate particulars about the alleged wrongdoing.  As the complaint was made anonymously, additional information and clarity could not be obtained.  The disclosure was not investigated per Section 19(1)(f) of the Act.  The limited information available was provided to the Chairperson of the Board of the private school.

This case highlights the challenge of receiving an anonymous complaint.  In the absence of sufficient detail about an alleged wrongdoing, an investigation will not be initiated if the Commissioner believes doing so would be unfair and ineffective.  Without the ability to communicate with a complainant, investigators are unable to obtain pertinent details about a disclosure.

Employees are urged to contact our office and speak with an investigator confidentially before deciding to make an anonymous complaint.


Complaint of reprisal unsupported

14 February 2017

An employee alleged they were dismissed from their employment as a result of making disclosures to their employer – an institution within the education sector.

The investigation found the employee had not made a protected disclosure in accordance with the Act and the issues they were reporting to their employer did not relate to wrongdoing as defined in the Act.


Allegation of improper distribution of income support benefits
15 February 2017

An anonymous disclosure alleged a supervisor within a government department had an inappropriate relationship with a client and was providing benefits to which the client was not entitled. However, salient details were not provided and as the disclosure was made anonymously, further details and clarity could not be obtained.

As the limited information provided would not permit a fair and effective investigation, it was determined the subject matter could more appropriately be addressed by the affected department.  The information provided in the complaint was forwarded to the Deputy Minister for consideration.


Allegation relating to a school division

16 March 2017

A disclosure of wrongdoing was received relating to alleged risk to the health and safety of students in a school division as the result of mold contamination.  The investigation is continuing and the outcome will be reported when the investigation is completed.


Allegation of gross-mismanagement of public funds
22 March 2017

An anonymous disclosure alleged gross mismanagement of public funds at a post secondary institution.

The institution reported it had already reviewed the matter and provided an internal audit report to the Commissioner detailing their findings.  A review of the internal audit supported the institution’s findings and further investigation was not undertaken.  The allegation of gross-mismanagement was not supported.