An expert on whistleblowing says Sackville’s volunteer firefighters are unlikely to report new instances of wrongdoing in the fire department under procedures town council approved this month.
The procedures require firefighters who see activities they consider to be illegal or unethical to report their concerns to the fire chief, the chief administrative officer or the mayor if their concern is with the CAO.
“People who are experts and informed in conflict resolution know that this is unworkable,” Pamela Forward, executive director of the Whistleblowing Canada Research Society, said during a Zoom online interview Monday from her home in Ottawa.
She added that whistleblowers who fear reprisals should not be required to report their concerns through an existing chain of command.
“If you don’t feel comfortable going to your boss for various reasons, there should be an option to go somewhere else,” she says.
“Most people now, who really are serious about wanting to get feedback from their employees, will ensure that there is some independent person to go to,” Forward adds.
“There needs to be an independent, impartial person who is seen as independent and impartial.”
Consistent & simple
When asked about the lack of opportunity for independent reporting during the town council question period on August 9th, CAO Jamie Burke replied it was important to keep the whistleblowing procedures simple and consistent.
“We’re a small municipality,” he said. “Given our size we felt it was more appropriate for a consistent approach to what our full-time staff, how they would report a similar type of incident.”
He explained that firefighters are now considered town employees rather than just volunteers and therefore, whistleblowing policies for both groups should be consistent.
Forward says it’s important to implement workable whistleblowing procedures both for the benefit of the public and for the town itself.
Warktimes reported in 2021 that over a five year period, 17 volunteer firefighters had resigned from Sackville Fire & Rescue because of persistent harassment, bullying and favouritism.
That reporting was based on whistleblowing testimony from former and current firefighters.
“Anytime an employee feels they have to go public, that’s a demonstration of an organizational failure,” Forward says and she suggests the new whistleblowing procedures won’t correct it.
“It’s kind of sad that the people in the organization don’t see that this is a reflection — and not a good reflection — on their approach to management, which is more about defending the status quo as opposed to learning and being reflective and being conflict friendly, seeing conflict as an opportunity to learn and maybe to learn how to do things better.”
To learn more about the Whistleblowing Canada Research Society, click here.
To read about the need for whistleblower protections from the Centre for Free Expression, click here.
To read Australian Professor Brian Martin’s free book Whistleblowing A Practical Guide, click here.