Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and good afternoon.
It is a real pleasure to appear before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. I am joined today by my deputy commissioner, Henry Molot, and my general counsel, Joe Friday. I am absolutely delighted to appear before the committee to talk about the mandate and the role of the office, which is still relatively new.
I was truly honoured to be appointed the first Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, and I have invested considerable effort in building a new organization that will be seen by public servants and citizens alike as credible, efficient, and trustworthy. It's very important that we be seen as responding to serious issues of concern and also finding appropriate, practical solutions to problems. Our ultimate goal is to enhance confidence in our public institutions and to support good governance.
Much has happened to advance our work since I first appeared before both houses, but a lot remains to be done. I'm truly confident that the momentum we've created will continue with great strength and that we will build upon it.
I would like to talk to you today about our mandate, who we are and why we were established, but also about the preamble to our act, which expressly recognizes the essential role of the federal public administration in Canadian democracy. The preamble refers to the public interest, and that is very important. It talks about enhancing confidence in the integrity of public servants and in public institutions. This is the solid foundation upon which I have established my office.
I do feel that the current economic climate focuses our attention on the essential role played by our public institutions. In difficult economic times, the role played by public institutions is even more important. The importance and necessity of the programs and services they provide have never been more clearly evident. The same is true of sound management.
In the context of economic instability, I think this organization plays a very important role in ensuring there is confidence in our public institutions.
Perhaps it might be useful if I go through, in very brief terms, the mandate. Essentially, we're talking about one act and two regimes: the disclosure of wrongdoing process, and a reprisal complaints process.
Let me start with the disclosure of wrongdoing process. The act defines wrongdoing as a contravention of any act of Parliament, provincial legislature, or regulations made under such acts; misuse of public funds or public assets; gross mismanagement; an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health, or safety of persons, or to the environment; a serious breach of a code of conduct; or knowingly directing or counselling a person to commit any of these wrongdoings. So you see it's very broad, and each element requires very careful attention.
My office is charged with receiving and investigating allegations of wrongdoing. Any public servant or any member of the public can disclose information about suspected wrongdoing.
Under the act, I have the power to determine whether or not an investigation is warranted based on the merits of each case. When we do launch an investigation, we use the combined expertise and experience of my staff, but also call on outside experts from time to time. We do legal analyses and use investigative techniques to find the best possible solution.
It is very important to point out that our investigations are confidential. What guides us throughout our work is that we are acting in the public interest in all cases that come before us. If we find a case of wrongdoing, we inform the deputy head, recommend corrective action and table a report in Parliament.
I have to say that public servants have the choice. They can go to their immediate supervisor, they can go to what is called the senior officer of each organization, or they can come directly to my office. Also, members of the public can come to our office.
Let me tell you about the second very important component under the act, which is called the reprisal complaints process. This second aspect of the mandate is quite critical, because we have unique and exclusive jurisdiction in protecting public servants from reprisals. We're of course talking about protecting public servants who come forward to disclose wrongdoing.
It is an innovative and important step on the part of Parliament. Reprisal is expressly prohibited under the act, and we must act swiftly and decisively to respond to it.
The act defines a reprisal as a disciplinary measure, demotion, termination of employment, anything that adversely affects employment or working conditions or a threat to take any of these measures.
When a complaint of reprisal is presented to us, there are some very short timelines, and I have been asked to be informed as soon as an allegation of reprisals comes to our office. Under the act, I have the authority to refuse to deal with a complaint when, for example, it was made in bad faith or is outside my jurisdiction. Whenever people contact our office, we want to make sure we listen to them, that we deal with their request and that we refer them to the best place to find a solution to the problem.
The act talks about dealing with and protecting people from reprisals as far as possible informally and expeditiously. This is a very important point. I also have discretionary authority to refer a complaint to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal for an order for remedial or disciplinary actions.
Let me now turn briefly to the first annual report that I've tabled before Parliament. We have handed out a little brochure, which you have before you. What I'd like to bring to your attention is that the thematic of our first annual report is “Building Trust Together”. In it, you will see these three words: “inform”, “protect”, and “prevent”. These are truly the pillars of our organization and the act. Let me explain how they will frame my submission today.
With the word “inform”, of course, we need to inform public servants and the general public of who we are, but as well, who we are not.
The annual report was a way of reaching out to people and all our stakeholders to introduce our new organization and to inform them about our mandate. There is still time to do more to make our role better known, for example by letting people know that our office has jurisdiction over 400,000 public servants, and that members of the public can disclose information about wrongdoing. With our role to inform in mind, we continue to focus on our outreach activities.
It is together that we must build trust in the process and in our procedures. Chief executives have a direct and pivotal role in informing everybody in their organizations, including in regard to the appointment of a senior officer who is tasked with the responsibility for accepting and acting upon allegations of wrongdoing.
In addition, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the Canada Public Service Agency, now the office of the chief human resources officer at the Treasury Board, is identified as having a very specific role, as well as supporting the Treasury Board minister.
One thing that has become quite clear to me since I assumed this role is that we cannot do it alone. We cannot take it for granted that because Parliament created my office, and because the office is up and running, as it had to be from the first day of the implementation of the act, people know exactly who we are. There's still a fair bit of confusion and a fair bit of work to be done.
The challenge of informing our stakeholders continues. I think everybody has a role, including the public sector, the media, the members of this committee, and your fellow parliamentarians, to help ensure that people are aware of our existence and our mandate and that they are confident in our ability to carry out that mandate and protect their interests.
The word “protection” is pivotal in the title of the legislation. This has to do with protecting the confidentiality of the disclosure, but also the confidentiality of the process itself and anybody who is part of this. Again, earlier I referred to informal and expeditious investigations, natural justice, and procedural fairness. We are not conducting criminal investigations. This is about public administration and administrative law. We have to recognize the many interests at stake. As well, we have to recognize that reputations and careers may be at stake as a result of any of our processes.
Our ability to offer real and effective protection is extremely important. In the next annual report, which I hope to table shortly, I ask whether people are afraid of coming forward, and if so, why? What collective role can we play to ensure once again that these questions are asked and answered?
Briefly, and I'm conscious of the time, I wish to address the third pillar of my mandate, which is prevention.
Immediately upon taking office, I made the deliberate choice, with the support of eminent jurists and Parliament, that prevention was part of the mandate. My office certainly will not hesitate to use the full strength of the act and investigate, but I think that the enforcement model is not enough. To achieve our goal, we must promote ethical behaviour and enhance confidence through the prevention of wrongdoing.
I would also like to make it clear that I am not the Auditor General, nor the chair of the Human Rights Commission, nor the person in charge of the staffing process. I play a complementary role that must not overlap with that of the specialized administrative tribunals. Once again, our objective is to protect the interests of all those who turn to us.
Before the meeting started, I spoke with some of the committee members about the fact that it was not easy to set up a new organization. There are huge challenges involved, but there are also opportunities. We invent processes, we interpret the act with the guidance of Parliament, but also with the assistance of all the people we consulted over the last two years. I think that as a result our mandate is very realistic and solution-oriented. We are not interested in simply identifying problems, we also want to identify solutions.
Creating a new organization presents challenges for any government and business, and our organization was no exception. We needed to interpret the legislation, to develop guidelines, while at the same time recruiting staff, setting up offices, setting up new processes. We needed to ensure that our organization had the right governance, the right accountability structures, to ensure that our day-to-day activities were conducted properly. Certainly, the experience had made me acutely aware of the unique challenges facing small organizations.
The committee may be interested in the budget of my office. I would be pleased to answer questions on this. Our budget is $6.5 million. Since we are a young organization, we expected we would spend $3.7 million, but we actually spent $3.6 million. In the years ahead, we will build on our experience. We use diversified resources to ensure we have all the expertise we require. I know there is provision for a five-year review of our act, and we will focus our research and work so as to reply to any concerns regarding our mandate.
Mr. Chair, it has been an honour to appear. I'm happy to answer any questions that you or members might have.
Yes, I'll keep them very brief
This is a new and, I believe, exciting technology. It's also a controversial one. So to ensure that Google and Canpages, the two leading providers of street-level surveillance, are in compliance with PIPEDA, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, and that the privacy concerns of Canadians are protected, I believe that a discussion on this matter is now warranted.
For background, Google recently sparked a new discussion about privacy laws with the announcement that it had already begun photographing Canadian cities for its 3D online mapping service, Street View. The company's vehicles travel throughout major Canadian cities with their 360° cameras, recording images for curious websurfers to view around the world. Companies like Canpages are attempting to provide a similar service.
The Privacy Commissioner has raised concerns specifically relating to the technology. In an August 2007 open letter to Google, and restated in a fact sheet that was circulated to some members of this committee, the Privacy Commissioner has raised questions about this 3D online mapping service and whether or not it is in compliance with PIPEDA.
The commissioner has refused to render a final judgment. As of this week, there is no final judgment on whether or not it's permitted, and there will be no judgment until there is a complaint for her to consider. And that won't happen until the service is online with Canadian images on it. Unfortunately, by then it might be too late. We think it would be profitable for the country to have this discussion before committee prior to any conflicts.
There have been concerns raised around the world. There have been the frivolous concerns, where men in Speedos have claimed that their images on the Internet have been horrifying people around the world. And there have been more serious ones, where people who run homeless shelters have been concerned that pictures of the people who use their services might be put on the Internet and their privacy might be jeopardized, that women's shelters might be on the Internet and the people who stay at those shelters might be identified. There was one argument made by a California legislator who suggested a link between a similar Google technology that he claimed was used by terrorists who attacked Mumbai.
Subsequently the BBC has reported that Privacy International has requested the ICO temporarily shut down Google Street View, alleging the application has caused clear embarrassment and damage to many Britons. There was one town in England that physically blocked the Street View car from coming into the town by the people locking their arms on the street.
So there's a lot of discussion. I think some of the discussion has been a little hyperbolic, and I think there has been some exaggeration of the dangers of this technology. But at the same time, there are also legitimate concerns about where the images will be stored, whether we want millions of images of Canadians to be kept in one place, what blurring will be done, whether the blurring will not only be for the Internet but also for the records of Google, and whether all the laws will be respected as this is carried out.
I think we have an interesting discussion here and a lot to offer from the expertise of this committee. So without further ado, I move my motion.