If the Town of Collingwood had an official whistleblower policy in place from 2010 to 2014, it’s possible the events covered under the judicial inquiry could have been avoided, say town staff.
During Wednesday night’s continuation of this week’s strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, councillors got a look at a new whistleblower policy for town staff, that seeks to provide a safe haven for town staff to raise concerns about issues of serious wrongdoing or abuse of authority within their ranks.
As part of the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry, it was suggested that the Town of Collingwood would benefit from a whistleblower protection policy. Although Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco did not make an official recommendation regarding this within the 309 recommendations out of the inquiry, a number of the other recommendations addressed staff’s ethical conduct and workplace harassment and intimidation.
“Staff believe that if a whistleblower policy existed at the time of the matters related to the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry, that the unfortunate events may have been mitigated,” said clerk Sara Almas. “I, being involved in the inquiry, would agree that myself and some of my colleagues could have benefited from such a policy.”
A whistleblower policy sets out the process for reporting wrongdoing and provides protection to employees who submit such allegations in good faith from any reprisals by the employer.
The proposed Collingwood policy may be used by all Town of Collingwood staff. Complaints involving elected officials would still be directed to the Integrity Commissioner.
The program would be managed by the managers of human resources and accountability. Complaints would be submitted through an anonymous reporting system and investigated by any town director of the complainant’s choice. A director may choose to appoint an independent external party to investigate on the corporation’s behalf.
The reporting system is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week by email or online through a secure website submission form. Whistleblowers are not required to provide their name or any other personal information when submitting a complaint, although they will sometimes be requested if deemed necessary to the investigation.
The anonymous report would then be submitted to a director and assigned a confidential code. The complainant could then access the complaint on a regular basis, using their assigned code, in order to check progress and to determine if the director has requested additional information.
The town’s chief administrative officer will provide a high-level summary of the complaints received and investigations conducted in an annual report to council through the strategic initiatives standing committee.
Coun. Kathy Jeffery asked whether current town staff sign off on a code of conduct as part of their employment, and whether that code had been updated out of the recommendations from the judicial inquiry.
Almas said staff do have a code of ethics, and it’s part of the town’s human resources policy. She said the staff code of ethics is on the town’s list of documents to be updated either by the end of 2021/early 2022.
Coun. Steve Berman said he was happy to see the policy come forward despite it not being included as one of the judicial inquiry’s official recommendations.
“I think we’re always looking to not just hit the bar, but go above the bar,” said Berman.
Committee members voted unanimously in favour of recommending receiving and approving the new whistleblower policy. Deputy Mayor Keith Hull and Coun. Bob Madigan were absent from the meeting.
The decision will need to be ratified at the next regular meeting of council.