Innocent targets of whistleblower law should learn of vindication

A public servant complained that she was unable to access her personal information, which had been collected by Public Works and Government Services Canada in the course of an investigation under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, better known as the whistleblower law.

The department’s investigation into an allegation of wrongdoing under the legislation completely exonerated the individual. She was not, however, informed of this outcome. After trying unsuccessfully to obtain access to the personal information that had been collected about her in connection with the inquiry, she complained to our Office.

We determined that section 22.3 of the Privacy Act had been applied correctly. It states that a department head shall refuse to disclose personal information that was created for the purpose of making a disclosure under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, or for a related investigation.

We therefore determined that the complaint was not well founded.

Even so, we were disturbed that people accused of wrongdoing under the whistleblower law are not told when an investigation finds them innocent of the charges. The consequences of a false accusation of malfeasance can be extremely serious, for the individual concerned and for the workplace in general.

Consequently, we urged Public Works and Government Services Canada to inform the subjects of inquiries when allegations of wrongdoing are unsubstantiated. Nearly a year after completing its investigation, the department advised the individual in writing that none of the allegations made against her had been proven.

In the interests of procedural fairness and natural justice, the Commissioner also asked the Treasury Board Secretariat to develop mechanisms to enable departments and agencies to inform all affected individuals when an allegation of wrongdoing is unsubstantiated. Although Treasury Board had urged senior officials of departments and agencies to do so shortly before the whistleblower law came into force in 2007, no guidelines to that effect have been published.

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