Whistleblower Program FAQ
1. What is the Whistleblower Policy?
The Municipality’s Whistleblower Policy provides a mechanism for members of the public and employees to report instances of wrongdoing by employees, vendors (meaning any person or firm that supplies goods or services to the Municipality) or Elected Officials. This Policy came into effect Jan. 1, 2016.
An independent and impartial third-party service provider will receive and process all allegations, and will determine whether an allegation falls within the definition of wrongdoing (see question five below). All such allegations will be forwarded to the appropriate Municipal internal lead (see question eight below). Any Whistleblower who makes an allegation of wrongdoing in good faith will be protected from retaliation and can be assured that their identity will be kept confidential.
An annual report on whistleblower activity will be submitted to Council and shared with the public.
2. Why does the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo need a Whistleblower Policy?
The Whistleblower Policy reflects the Municipality’s core principles of accountability, transparency, integrity, and ethical behaviour on the part of all Municipal employees, vendors and Elected Officials. The Municipality is committed to creating and maintaining a corporate culture and environment in which employees and members of the public feel comfortable reporting acts of wrongdoing, in good faith, without fear of retaliation, and in which employees, vendors and Elected Officials are held accountable for acts of wrongdoing.
In 2014, the Accountability, Integrity and Transparency Audit recommended that mechanisms for individuals to report wrongdoing should be more accessible and should include safeguards to ensure that the identity of a person reporting wrongdoing will be kept confidential. It was also recommended that an independent and impartial third-party service provider should be responsible for the initial intake of allegations, including the “Whistleblower hotline.” Responding to these recommendations, Council approved a Whistleblower Policy on October 6 2015, to come into effect on January 1, 2016.
With this policy, Council ensures it is following best practices and strengthening the mechanisms around reporting wrongdoing. Policies like this reflect the Municipality’s core principles of accountability, transparency and integrity, and our commitment to spending tax dollars responsibly.
3. Who can be a Whistleblower?
Any member of the public or Municipal employee can make an allegation of wrongdoing by an employee, vendor or Elected Official.
4. What can be reported under the Whistleblower Policy?
Members of the public and employees can report allegations of wrongdoing, in good faith, under the Whistleblower Policy.
The Whistleblower Policy is not the mechanism for reporting a need for services (for example garbage pick-up, pothole concerns or parking issues) or for seeking information about Municipal operations. The Municipality’s PULSE Call Line (780-743-7000) continues to be the first point of contact for these concerns.
5. What constitutes an act of wrongdoing?
Wrongdoing means an act or omission that constitutes one or more of the following:
- A contravention of federal or provincial legislation or regulations
- Misuse or gross mismanagement of Municipal funds or assets, or Civil Fraud
- An act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of any person, or to the environment, other than a danger inherent in performance of a person’s duties as an employee or vendor
- A serious breach of the Municipality’s Code of Conduct
- Advising or encouraging any person to do anything set out in the above statements
It does not include anything that is or may be grounds for disqualification of an Elected Official under the Municipal Government Act.
6. How do I report a suspected case of wrongdoing?
Members of the public and employees can report allegations of wrongdoing under the Whistleblower Policy.
Allegations must include the following information:
- The name of the Whistleblower, unless the Whistleblower chooses to remain anonymous
- The position of the Whistleblower with the Municipality (if applicable)
- The name of each employee, Elected Official or vendor against whom an allegation is made
- The specific nature of the alleged wrongdoing or retaliation
- The specific date or dates of the alleged wrongdoing or retaliation
- A statement as to the information or evidence upon which the allegation is based
- Any other information or evidence the Whistleblower believes may be relevant to an investigation of the allegation
P.O. Box 6722
Fort McMurray, AB
7. Can I make an anonymous allegation of wrongdoing?
Yes, you can report anonymously by sending an unmarked, unsigned letter or by leaving an anonymous voicemail.
Whistleblowers should be aware, however, that anonymous allegations still need to be backed up with details and, where possible, actual evidence of wrongdoing. If a Whistleblower is the only person in possession of important evidence, and chooses to remain anonymous, it may be difficult to do an investigation or other follow-up to the allegation.
If you do decide to reveal your identity, it will be held in strict confidence. The third party service provider is only allowed to disclose your identity to the Municipality with your written consent, and then only to one of a very small group of Municipal employees known as “internal leads” (see Question 8 below).
8. What will happen to my allegation once it is received?
The third-party service provider will process all allegations and, if you have disclosed your identity when making your allegation, may ask for your written consent to reveal your identity to the internal lead.
The third-party service provider will forward allegations that fall within the definition of wrongdoing to the appropriate Municipal internal lead, who will determine whether an allegation warrants an investigation, or other follow-up action. The Municipal internal leads are: the Director of Human Resources (for allegations against employees), the Municipal Auditor (for allegations against vendors), the Director of Legal and Legislative Services (for allegations against Elected Officials) and the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO) (for allegations against the Director of Human Resources). The internal lead will determine whether an allegation merits an investigation, and will so inform the whistleblower if they have consented to revealing their identity. The internal lead will also determine whether the investigation will be conducted by an internal or external investigator.
If an investigation is done arising from an allegation, the DCAO and the executive director of the division from which the allegation rose will review the investigation report and impose disciplinary action as is deemed appropriate. Where the results of the investigation find reasonable grounds to conclude that a criminal act may have occurred, the file will be immediately turned over to the RCMP.
All allegations against Elected Officials will be reported to Council by the Director of Legal and Legislative Services. If Council finds that an Elected Official has committed any act of wrongdoing or retaliation, the Council may take any disciplinary action that is consistent with the Municipal Government Act.
9. How will I know if my report is being acted on?
The internal lead will determine whether the allegation merits an investigation, and will inform the whistleblower, if they have consented in writing to revealing their identity, through the third-party service provider. Due to privacy and legal considerations, they won’t report to you about the progress of the investigation.
10. Will there be reports to the public about the nature of complaints and actions taken?
The annual report to Council will be released publicly. It will give an overview of the nature of the allegations, how many were received and how many were acted on.
Council may decide to publicize the findings of a specific investigation.
11. How will my identity be protected?
All investigations will be conducted in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) legislation. The third-party service provider will maintain the identity of the whistleblower in strictest confidence, disclosing it only to an internal lead if the whistleblower consents in writing. The internal lead will honour all requests for confidentiality and will not release this information unless legally required to do so (for example, by order of a court).
Where individuals are concerned about revealing their identity, they may use the anonymous option for reporting, recognizing however that this may limit the ability to conduct an investigation.
12. As a member of the public, how will the Municipality protect me from retaliation?
It is important for you to know that we will not tolerate retaliation against whistleblowers. If you are targeted because someone thinks you have made a report, please report this to the Whistleblower Program immediately. The program will investigate reports of retaliation against members of the public.