Montreal’s whistleblower hotline riddled with conflicts

In November of last year, the Mayor of Montreal, Canada, announced a plan to funnel whistleblower hotline disclosures to the city’s Comptroller General. The change, now implemented, means that disclosures no longer qualify for confidentiality protections under the Cities and Towns Act that previously applied when disclosures went to the Auditor General.  (Montreal Gazette)

Conducting a little investigation of my own, I discovered that the hotline website, managed by a contractor, ClearView, informs users that disclosures go to the Comptroller General.  The Auditor General’s website makes no mention of this change and continues to direct whistleblowers to the Clearview website.  It also continues to assure potential whistleblowers that they are guaranteed anonymity by authority of the Auditor General.  The ClearView website echoes the anonymity claim even though the authority that protected whistleblower identities no longer applies (per the Montreal Gazette).  Neither website gives employees guidance on how to avoid prosecution under a recently implemented policy that punishes employees for revealing “sensitive” or “confidential” information–terms that the city’s policy does not define.

The hotline thus gives the appearance of serving as a trap for honest employees, with expected results:  Calls to the hotline have dropped precipitously.  Unquestionably, the city needs whistleblowers and whistleblowers need a secure means to report problems anonymously, as FAIR’s David Hutton explains.

Wrongdoers cover their tracks and watch for anyone who might expose them, Hutton said. Often when a would-be whistleblower notices something is going on, the wrongdoer has already identified that person because they seem too independent, too competent or too principled. So a pre-emptive strike is common, Hutton said. The wrongdoer starts to spread rumours about the whistleblower, isolating him or her. It’s not uncommon for a 20- or 30-year stellar personnel file to be replaced by a stream of bogus complaints and retaliatory internal investigations, often accusing the whistleblower of the wrongdoing, he said.

“Or you can give them work that’s impossible to do, or no work. There’s no limit to what the wrongdoer can do because they often have management supporting them, and they have no scruples.”

What is happening in Montreal is not unique. Around the world government officials employ similar schemes to create the impression that they are protecting whistleblowers while, simultaneously, they are undermining those protections.   By engaging in these practices, officials drive honest employees to make their disclosures through organizations like Wikileaks.  How then, can officials blame anyone else when disclosures subsquently blow up in their faces?

Photo (CC) by donnaidh_sidhe at Flickr.