Sask. NDP fight for whistle-blower protection

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September 3, 2015 8:15 AM

The Saskatchewan NDP have joined forces with the province’s privacy commissioner to demand stronger legislation after the office of the premier released private information about a whistleblower who went public about poor conditions at a seniors home where he was employed.

The privacy commissioner agrees with the opposition party that safeguards need to be put in place to prevent Premier Brad Wall and his senior staff from doing something like this again.

“This has been a real mess where we had the premier of the province, the highest office in Saskatchewan, with his right hand communications intentionally breaching the privacy of a health-care worker simply to drag his name through the mud and to score political points,” said NDP Leader Cam Broten. “And this was a whistle blower. Someone who raised concern about what they saw first hand. Completely unacceptable.”

Broten says the privacy commissioner made a ruling on the subject but the premier got off the hook on a technicality. The NDP want the technicality removed so the privacy legislation applies to all levels of office because they say what happened was wrong and unfair to the healthcare worker who had his information released.

Peter Bowden, a healthcare worker who worked at Oliver Lodge Special Care Home, went to the legislature on March, 30 to publicly complain about the conditions in which he worked. According to information obtained from the NDP party, Bowden said the care home was largely understaffed, which led to situations involving elderly residents laying in their soiled beds for hours at a time, crying because there was nobody there to help them.

When Broten raised the case in the legislature that day he asked the premier for a promise that Bowden would not get fired for speaking out, and according to the NDP, the premier agreed at the time. Roughly a week later the premier’s executive director of communications sent a “flurry” of emails to media all over the province, revealing details from Bowden’s personal work file that said he was previously under investigation by his employers.

“The gist of it is, information was given to Mr. Wall that shouldn’t have been given and then he intentionally, through his right hand communications person, shared private confidential information about the employee with the media, in an attempt not to shed light on the story, but to simply besmirch the individual’s reputation,” said Broten.

“They were things unrelated to the concerns being raised about the quality of care that he witnessed. As the privacy commissioner ruled and demonstrated, what Mr. Wall did was inappropriate and the real desire he had was to scare people about not wanting to speak out.”

The privacy commissioner ruled that it is illegal to reveal personal employment information of a person to the media and that it was, in fact, illegal for Bowden’s employer to share the information with the health region, which shared it with the health minister and then onto the premier. The NDP also say that when Bowden went to the legislature, his employment record was clean and they were able to confirm the fact with his union.

Within a week of him blowing the whistle, though, he was being investigated for things the government claimed happened 10 years previous. Bowden was subsequently dismissed from Oliver Lodge in August.

According an NDP press release from Aug. 18, the privacy commissioner recommends that, “The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act should be amended to apply to the premier’s office and ministers’ offices. The commissioner notes that the premier and his ministers ‘are not exempt from society’s expectations that they protect personal information and personal health information’.

“He also recommended amendments to The Public Interest Disclosure Act, to provide health care workers with reasonable whistle-blower protection, as well as an update to the Overarching Personal Information Privacy Framework and a code of conduct.”

The Opposition New Democrats support the commissioner’s recommendations and called on the government to commit to make the necessary changes during the fall session of the Legislative Assembly.

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