Edward Snowden is a household name — he’s a whistleblower who so profoundly upset the very powerful that he was forced to flee his home country.
What we tend to forget is that in almost all bureaucracies and governments, big and small, there’s the need for anyone who sees wrongdoing in her or his workplace to speak out about it.
Bureaucracies, even the best, by their very nature tend to create a party line. Critical thinking is not encouraged. In the long run, this can have a devastating impact on the vitality of the organization. More importantly, a “party line mentality” makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for the proverbial whistleblower to speak out. This is unfortunately the case even when it is not only in the best interests of the bureaucracy or organization in question, it’s also in the best interests of those being served, including society as a whole.
CBC Radio’s Ideas recently did a program on this topic. Called “Don’t Shoot the Messenger”, you can find it here.
All of the above brings me to Vancouver City Councillor Adriane Carr’s recent whistleblower protection motion. Before we take a moment to look at its details, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that all of Vancouver’s citizens are better served when each and every person working for the City of Vancouver can speak out and speak up without any fear of retribution.
Ironically, an environment that protects whistleblowers actually reduces the likelihood and need for it as those tempted to abuse power will think twice before doing since they know that their colleagues will not be fearful of speaking out.
Councillor Carr’s motion asks for a review of whistleblower protection for city staff with an eye to provide things like independent investigations of any alleged wrongdoings; guaranteed anonymity if a whistleblower chooses to be anonymous; and protection for whistleblowers from reprisals.
Her motion arose after recent an investigative news report of a controversial land swap deal involving the city losing out on $65-million worth of land and the city waiving development cost levies.
I was hoping support for this motion would be a slam dunk, but unfortunately the Vision-majority Council voted to refer it back to staff, which could mean delaying it up to several years. Let’s keep out fingers crossed that it will ultimately receive the total support of Council that it deserves and is not dealt with in a partisan manner.