B.C. whistleblowing law begins adding more public-sector workers

The 2019 Public Interest Disclosure Act created a whistleblowing regime for government workers.

Attorney General David Eby expanded the scope of the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) on April 1, 2022.

B.C. Attorney General David Eby announced Friday the expansion of whistleblower protections among the public sector.

To date, the Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) only applied to staff in government ministries and independent offices of the legislature. Now, a phased approach to expanding PIDA begins, first with B.C.’s tribunals and a number of agencies, boards and commissions now required to follow legislation.

“Over the past 18 months, we’ve had a chance to see these whistleblower protections for public servants in action and have fine-tuned the act to prepare for the rollout to the broader public sector,” said Eby in a statement.

The COVID-19 pandemic is being cited as a reason for the phased approach as Eby’s office acknowledged the process to implement the act is “complex.”

Crown corporations will begin following the act in December 2022, school districts in December 2023 and finally all post-secondary and health-related entities by June 2024.

Notable entities soon joining include the B.C. Securities Commission, B.C. Lottery Corp. (BCLC), BC Hydro, BC Housing and BC Ferry Authority in December 2022 and all health authorities by June 2023.

The B.C. NDP provincial government formed PIDA in December 2019 in response to a B.C. ombudsperson recommendation stemming from employee terminations at the Ministry of Health in 2012. 

The Attorney General’s office now claims “PIDA allows whistleblowers to confidentially disclose concerns about issues that affect the public interest to designated officers within their organizations or to the Office of the Ombudsperson.”

The act is to also intended to prevent reprisals against whistleblowing employees, which may also be reported to an officer or the ombudsperson. The act also calls for annual reports from the ombudsperson.

In the first full year of PIDA (to March 31, 2021), the ombudsperson reported 38 active disclosures from a sanctioned entity. Of those cases, 10 proceeded to investigations and only one was completed.

It's up to the ombudsperson to file a public report on an investigation. This and a lack of protections for reporting to media are among some of the criticisms PIDA has received.

Whistleblowing has most recently received attention at the Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in B.C. There, former BCLC anti-money laundering director Ross Alderson told of how he took his concerns about alleged money laundering to media in 2017.

Alderson claimed he received threats he suspected came from within BCLC, following his whistleblowing — a matter BCLC objected to before the commission.

Under the act, Alderson would have needed to seek a superior, or the police, both of which were the subject of alleged wrongdoing or inaction. Or, he could have gone to the ombudsperson.

“It depends on the independence of the ombudsperson. If they are an officer of the legislature [which they are], I can perceive there being problems,” former whistleblower Jeff Melland, who exposed the BC Liberal “quick wins” ethnic outreach scandal, told Glacier Media last year.

B.C.’s public sector whistleblowing laws do not apply to public-traded companies. The government has oversight of the B.C. Securities Commission, which would in turn implement such a regime, which is becoming standard practice among Western jurisdictions.

gwood@glaciermedia.ca