I do. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to appear to discuss the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, which came into force on April 15, 2007, replacing the Treasury Board's Policy on the Internal Disclosure of Information Concerning Wrongdoing in the Workplace.
The intent of the act is to promote an ethical climate in the public sector, which in turn maintains and enhances public confidence in the integrity of public servants and institutions. By providing public servants with a safe way to speak up when they see something wrong, the act leads to enhanced workplace well-being in the public sector.
The public sector is held to the highest standards of accountability by Canadians, and we take pride in ensuring sound stewardship of the public service assets and excellence in the delivery of programs and services to our citizens.
The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is an important part of our integrity framework. Of particular importance, the act sets out measures to promote an ethical climate. It does this through its values and ethics code for the public sector, as well as organizational codes of conduct to articulate our shared values and expected behaviour in the public sector.
The act encourages employees in the public sector to come forward if they have reasons to believe serious wrongdoing may have taken place, and when they do, it provides them protection from reprisals so they can feel safe in coming forward.
The act established multiple avenues to disclose wrongdoing, internal to departments and external.
The Public Sector Integrity Commissioner is an independent agent of Parliament who is responsible for investigating the disclosures of wrongdoing that are made to his office and all complaints of reprisal.
The act also established the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal to address cases of reprisal and provide either remedial or disciplinary measures if reprisal is found.
Specifically, the act allows employees to make disclosures to their supervisors, to the senior officer of disclosure designated for their organization, or to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. It also allows for disclosures to be made to the Auditor General when they concern the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner itself. In fact, the act allows public servants to provide the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner with information about possible wrongdoing in the public sector.
The act also provides reprisal protection for public servants who disclose information in the course of parliamentary proceedings or in the course of a procedure established under another act of Parliament, or when lawfully required to do so. This means that the act's protection against reprisals serves as a support to many government mechanisms.
Through these provisions, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act enhances the ability of organizations to identify and resolve incidents of wrongdoing, while supporting employees who disclose wrongdoing and protecting them from reprisal.
Those are the broad strokes of the act. Now let us discuss some of the more specific areas of the act, beginning with who the act covers.
The act applies to all employees in federal departments and agencies, most crown corporations, and the RCMP. For security reasons, it does not include the Canadian Forces, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, and the Communications Security Establishment, each of which were required to establish similar regimes for the disclosure of wrongdoing, including the protection of persons who disclose wrongdoing.
The act also provides protection for people outside the public sector, such as external contractors, when they provide information about wrongdoing in or related to the federal public sector.
Let me turn to the matter of what constitutes wrongdoing under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act. It includes the violation of any act of Parliament or act of the legislatures of Canada's provinces and territories, which includes violating any regulations made under these acts; the misuse of public funds or public assets; gross mismanagement; doing something that creates or knowingly fails to prevent a substantial or specific danger to health, safety, or life of persons or to the environment; the serious breach of any code of conduct that applies to the public sector; and knowingly directing or counselling a person to commit wrongdoing as defined in the act.
Wrongdoing is not a disagreement with legitimate instructions received in the course of employment or criticism of political decisions.
The act provides employees with a choice of three secure and confidential channels for making a disclosure.
Within their organization, employees may make a disclosure to their immediate supervisor.
They can also speak to their organization's designated senior officer for disclosure. The senior officer for disclosure's role includes providing guidance to employees wishing to make a disclosure, managing the investigation of disclosures, and reporting the results of the investigations to their chief executives.
Finally, employees can go to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
For internal disclosures, the act requires the chief executive to provide public access to information describing any wrongdoing that is found and any corrective action that has been taken. The act also requires the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to report to Parliament within 60 days of finding a wrongdoing.
A common concern of those considering disclosing wrongdoing is the fear of acts of reprisal. To address this, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act requires disclosures of wrongdoing be treated with an appropriate degree of confidentiality.
Organizations must protect any information they collect about disclosures, including the identities of those making disclosures and of other parties involved, subject to other acts of Parliament and the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness. In this way, the act provides protection to those who disclose wrongdoing, balanced with a fair and objective process for those against whom allegations are made.
In addition, if those who disclose wrongdoers are the subject of reprisal, they can complain to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner within 60 days of the realization of the reprisal that was taken against them. If the complaint is founded, doing so may lead to corrective action being ordered by the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal, such as compensation or disciplinary measures against the guilty parties.
To be clear, acts of reprisal include any disciplinary measures, demotion, termination of employment, and any other action or threat that adversely affects employment or working conditions.
Finally, the act requires that the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner prepare an annual report to Parliament on the activities of his office. The act also requires that the chief human resources officer prepare an annual report for the President of the Treasury Board to table in Parliament.
The report of the chief human resources officer must provide information on activities related to the disclosures made in public sector organizations that are subject to the act.
Additionally, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer supports public sector organizations in their administration of the act through learning events, meetings, and ongoing guidance, as well as by making tools and information available on our website.
We believe in promoting a positive and respectful public sector culture that is grounded in values and ethics. We believe that an effective disclosure regime is beneficial to the organization and to the workforce, and we believe that the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is an important part of our integrity framework.
With that, I welcome all of your questions.
I'd like to thank both of you for being here to answer our questions.
I will touch on a slightly more technical side. I would like to talk about the number of disclosures. I am always a little concerned when I hear politicians casting doubt on mechanisms that are specifically designed to reassure public servants, the public service, the government and, ultimately, the public. The doubts expressed always concern the effectiveness of the system, which was implemented a few years ago. It is always perfectible. Indeed, we can always improve on things; it's normal. The important thing for me is knowing whether it works well, whether the corrective measures respond to the problems raised. Confidentiality is very important. You just mentioned it. It is perhaps the rule that, above all else, will allow people to feel comfortable becoming whistleblowers.
The 2015-16 annual report indicates that 385 disclosures were processed during that period. Some figures decrease from year to year, while others increase. In total, 31 processed disclosures resulted in corrective action, an increase of 82% over 2014-15.
Seen in this light, I think the numbers are pretty encouraging. There is no evidence to suggest that, by correlation, the 400,000 employees should result in thousands of disclosures. On the contrary, there should be very few. In theory, these disclosure figures can make people panic, but it should be the opposite.
Could you tell us whether any particular trends or problems emerged from those 31 disclosures that were processed and that led to action?