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Canadian whistleblower suspended without pay

(CJFE/IFEX) - January 16, 2013 - Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is watching with great interest the case brought before Federal court by Department of Justice lawyer Edgar Schmidt. Schmidt's position appears to be that the Canadian Justice Department has not carried out its duties in reporting to Parliament areas of new legislation, which are not in compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights.

A senior lawyer with the Justice department, Schmidt served as general counsel and special advisor in the Legislative Services Branch. The Justice Department, according to its website, “provides legal advice to the Government and all federal government departments and agencies.” It also “promote[s] respect for rights and freedoms, the law and the Constitution.”

Schmidt considers himself to be a whistleblower, while it appears his employer believes that he has overstepped his duties and has suspended him without pay. As CJFE Board member Phil Tunley said in CJFE's 2011 report on Whistleblowing legislation “Canada is a notoriously tough place for whistleblowers.”

The Globe and Mail reported today that Federal Court judge Simon Noël had heard from both sides on January 15 and that Judge Noël had been quite vocal in his criticisms of the Justice department. The Justice department has still to present its side of the case. The Globe and Mail reported that “a spokesperson for the department, said in an email that it is confident that its legal reporting obligations are being met.”

“In case after case, we are seeing public officials who dare to speak out met with quick and heavy-handed retribution at the hands of the Canadian government,” said media lawyer and CJFE Board member Peter Jacobsen. “These people are clearly working in the public interest but the system is failing them.”

The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized the “whistleblower” defence in public sector staff grievances since 1985. In 2010, the Supreme Court took another big step forward when it stated “It is in the context of the public right to knowledge about matters of public interest that the legal position of the confidential source or whistleblower must be located.”

CJFE believes that although the Supreme Court of Canada may be making incremental improvements to laws protecting whistleblowers, the reality on the ground for whistleblowers like Joanna Gualtieri and 2011 CJFE Integrity winners Dr. Shiv Chopra, Dr. Margaret Haydon and Dr. Gerard Lambert can be very grim.

Canadians should be proud of our strong heritage of whistleblowers acting in the public interest. We should stop treating them like felons and start treating them like the exemplary citizens they are.

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