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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

Why Blow the Whistle?

Back in 1972 Ralph Nader defined whistleblowing as “an act of a man or a woman who, believing in the public interest overrides the interest of the organization he serves, publicly blows the whistle if the organization is involved in corrupt, illegal, fraudulent or harmful activity.”

Ex-U.S. Intelligence Analyst Daniel Hale pleaded guilty to leaking documents about the U.S. drone program. He was charged with violating one count of the archaic World War I-era Espionage Act. The Biden administration refused to drop its case against Hale who now faces up to 10 years in prison. As a result of his courageous act The Intercept was able to publish a special report called “The Drone Papers,” detailing the secret, unaccountable process for targeting and killing people around the world.

These sorts of prosecutions are not intended to change the behaviour of those charged, simply because the latter do what they do not in order to profit, or because they like breaking the law, but rather because they can no longer live with themselves knowing that their government has willfully and secretly carried out disgraceful, unjust, illegal, immoral or unconstitutional acts. They blow the whistle knowing they may face imprisonment. It is called having a conscience.

The last thing governments and corporations want is an employee or military person with a conscience. That is why governments around the world have declared a 'war on whistleblowers'. The point of this 'war' is to prosecute whistleblowers so severely and disproportionately that any future person who might conscientously object to government and corporate wrongdoing by exposing illegality, fraud, and abuses of power will be terrified into silence.

Since governments and corporations will continue to do everything possible to make certain there will never be any sort of comprehensive legal rights and protections for whistleblowers, it is up to the rest of us to fight on their behalf in any way we can.

In Canada this means pressing for legal protections and an independent commissioner whose role would be to encourge whistleblowers to come forward. Canada’s present whistleblower protection legislation is an utter disgrace. An international report ranked Canada tied for last out of 62 countries when it comes to whistleblower protection.

Even when Canadian legislators enact Federal laws mandating the punishment of employers who take revenge on whistleblowers (for example in Section 425.1 of the Criminal Code) there is zero enforcement by police--no surprise there. Even more ridiculous the Canada Labour Code requires that federal workers file their complaints with their boss--the person who is likely breaking the law. Corporations use non-disclosure agreements between employer and employee which prohibit the sharing of any information deemed confidential or proprietary. The problem is that these are typically used to silence whistleblowers and keep illegal activity secret from governments and the public.

When whistleblowers report wrongdoings, when they shine a light on corrupt, illegal, fraudulent or harmful activities they force governments and corporations to be accountable for what they are secretly doing behind the backs of citizens. And that, clearly and unambiguously, is a great benefit to all of us.

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