OTTAWA, May 25, 2020 /CNW/ - Governments across the country have been denying Canadians access to vital information about the novel coronavirus and their responses to it, while failing to protect whistleblowers who could expose threats to public health – whether they are in long-term care homes or meat packing plants.
That's why a group of prominent accountability experts is calling on those governments to take decisive action to open government records and safeguard whistleblowers, including the creation of COVID-19 Ombudspersons.
"Canadians are being kept in the dark about everything from how much money is being spent to fight the pandemic to basic data about where the disease is spreading," said Ian Bron, an Ottawa-based accountability advocate and former whistleblower who coordinated the Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group's effort.
"We know that when governments and corporations operate without public scrutiny, the potential for negligence, fraud, and misinformation dramatically increases. And, during a pandemic, that puts lives and scarce dollars at risk."
To counter that problem, the group is proposing federal and provincial COVID-19 Ombudspersons that would provide advice and support for Canadians who witness pandemic-related wrongdoing within the public and private sector and need to report it.
The group is recommending those offices be paired with powerful new open records laws to provide Canadians with documents and data that public bodies are routinely withholding.
Such laws would require those bodies to publicly release a number of broad categories of unredacted records, including health and safety inspection reports, public health research and government contracts.
The group is also calling on Canadian governments to protect anyone who reports public or private sector wrongdoing related to the COVID-19 crisis, as well fix the country's broken whistleblowing laws. Financial incentives for whistleblowers should accompany those fixes, along with a campaign educating whistleblowers about their rights.
Those recommendations, which are included in a 22-page white paper, were made as part of an international legal hackathon supported by the Financial Times in London to develop solutions to problems created by the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of that hackathon, Constantine Cannon, an international law firm known for representing whistleblowers, challenged participants to brainstorm ways to help whistleblowers speak out about COVID-19 fraud and misinformation. Eleven teams from around the world took up that challenge.
Mary Inman, a partner at the firm, said Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group's contribution to that effort "includes important innovations that would provide powerful safeguards against political and financial wrongdoing during this crisis."
A complete copy of the white paper and its accompanying slide deck can be found here: https://bit.ly/2LS3nra
About the Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group
The group is composed of former whistleblowers and prominent accountability experts from the fields of academia, law, policing and journalism. They include representatives from organizations that have been at the forefront of fighting for whistleblower rights. For a complete list of members, please see the contributors section of the group's white paper.
SOURCE Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group
For further information: Ian Bron, Board Member, Anti-Corruption and Accountability Canada and Whistleblowing Canada Research Society, Advisory Committee Member, Centre for Free Expression Whistleblowing Initiative, (613) 296-5080 / [email protected]; Sandy Boucher, Senior Fellow, Centre for Free Expression Whistleblowing Initiative, (416) 629-1363 / [email protected]; Pamela Forward, President, Whistleblowing Canada Research Society, (604) 989-9789 / [email protected]; Sean Holman, Associate Professor of Journalism, Mount Royal University, (403) 397-4751 / [email protected]