Whistleblowers have been involved in the evolution of modern democratic societies and have spurred growing interest from citizens for transparency and freedom of information. The Internet and social networks have allowed for the development of citizen actions and large-scale disclosures of public interest information. In addition to responding to citizens’ desire for society’s openness and transparency, the protection of whistleblowers is part of risk management before disasters. In fact, in the past, these actors of change have brought a number of health, environmental, financial, surveillance and corruption scandals to light.
While the determination of whistleblowing limitations is essential to ensure a fair, secure and open society, the Canadian legal framework is uncertain and unclear. Without knowing the criteria of protection, their rights, obligations and the risks involved to their safety, informed people will not disclose.
In 2018, Véronique Newman and Florian Martin-Bariteau published Whistleblowing in Canada: A Knowledge Synthesis Report, a report resulting of a Knowledge Synthesis Grant awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), as part of the “Imagining Canada’s Future” initiative. The report explained the Canadian framework for whistleblowers and highlighted the gaps in the Canadian legal system, that is confusing at best, in regard to whistleblower protection and the need for critical reflection and change.
The report noted an array of legal rules protecting secrets and disclosures found in dozens of federal, provincial and territorial laws, not to mention procedures specific to certain agencies or regulatory bodies. Each framework sets different definitions and protection criteria, which is further complicated through case law, adding to the vagueness through specific definitions and interpretation criteria. There is also an important technological and digital literacy gap that comes from both the organizations that are trying—and are often required—to protect whistleblowers as well as from the whistleblowers themselves. Combined with unclear and uncertain legal frameworks, the absence of proper technological literacy and protection subjects disclosure to several risks.
This website aims at answering some of those needs in presenting the diversity of protection available for whistleblowers, in other words, individuals making public interest disclosures.
This website tries to provide this information in plain and accessible language. In addition, a direct link to the legal provisions and the cases that might have interpreted it are provided.
If you feel like something is missing, please reach out through the suggestion form!
It should be noted that the website only includes provisions regarding the voluntary disclosures of wrongdoing that involve a public interest dimension normally constituting unethical practices or legal breaches and may be disclosed internally or externally. Protection for informants, individuals subject to legal duties to inform, and labour relation framework for personal complaints and grievances have been purposely omitted.
In any case, anyone requiring or seeking legal advice or help should retain the services of a competent professional. The content available on this website is intended for informational purposes only, with no intent to provide any legal or professional advice. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the content of this website, authors, and others involved, shall not be liable for any loss, liability or damage arising from the use of or reliance on this report. The authors disclaim any liability in respect of the results of any actions taken in reliance upon information contained in this report, and for any errors or omissions contained therein.
The creation of this electronic resource has been made possible thanks to research founded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), the Canadian Foundation for Legal Research, the Fondation du Barreau du Québec, the Fund for Law, Risks and the Internet, and the University of Ottawa Research Chair in Technology and Society.
The views and opinions expressed in this website are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the funders, nor of the University of Ottawa, the Faculty of Law or the Centre for Law, Technology and Society. Errors and opinions remain those of the authors.
Florian Martin-Bariteau, University of Ottawa Research Chair in Technology and Society
Michelle Folinas, research fellow (2020-) and project lead (2021-)
Kahina Haroune, research fellow (2020-)
Véronique Newman, research fellow and project lead (2016-2019)
Véronique Poulin, research fellow (2017-2019) and project lead (2019-2020)
The research has also been supported by Chris Casimiro, Sania Ahuja, Kari-Anne Murphy, Shahrzad Shab Afrouz, Jordan Samaroo and Priyanka Bahl.