Public Service of Ontario Act

Overview

Under the Public Service of Ontario Act (SO 2006, c. 35), a public servant is protected from reprisals for disclosing a wrongdoing to a designated officer or the Integrity Commissioner.

What kind of disclosure is protected?

The Act protects public servants who, while acting in good faith and on the basis of reasonable belief, has disclosed information to the Integrity Commissioner  regarding a wrongdoing s.114 associated with the public service of Ontario and its work s. 110.

Under the Act, a public servant s.2(2) is: 

  • every person employed by the Crown ;
  • the Secretary of the Cabinet;
  • every deputy minister;
  • every employee of a public body; or
  • every person appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council, the Lieutenant Governor or a minister to a public body.

Under the Act, a wrongdoing s. 108(1)(a)-(d), 108(2)(a)-(b) is defined as: 

  • a contravention by a public servant, a minister or parliamentary assistant of an Act of the Assembly or of the Parliament of Canada, or of a regulation made under such an Act;
  • an act or omission of a public servant, a minister or parliamentary assistant that creates a grave danger to the life, health or safety of persons or to the environment, where the danger is unreasonable having regard to his or her duties, powers and functions and any other relevant circumstance;
  • gross mismanagement by a public servant, a minister or parliamentary assistant in the work of the public service of Ontario; or
  • directing or counselling wrongdoing within the meaning of clauses above by a public servant, a minister or parliamentary assistant.

 Referring to the clauses above in the definition of wrongdoing

  • when considering an act or failure to act by a public servant, that also includes former public servants if the act or failure to act happened while the individual was a public servant s. 108(2)(a)
  • when considering an act or failure to act by a minister or parliamentary assistant, that also includes former ministers or former parliamentary assistants if the act or failure to act happened while the individual was a minister or parliamentary assistant s. 108(2)(b)

The right to disclose a wrongdoing under this Act prevails over any other indications under other Act as well as other Acts which would normally prohibit the disclosure s.113 (1).

Under the Act in this Part, reference to a former public servant s.109  includes a person who ceased, before the day on which this section comes into force, to be: 

  • a public servant within the meaning of the Public Service Act;
  • an employee of a public body within the meaning of this Act; or
  • a government appointee within the meaning of this Act.

Who is eligible for protection?

The Act protects public servants who, in good faith and on the basis of reasonable belief, have made a protected disclosure. However, the following disclosures by public servants, including former public servants, are prohibited s.113 :

  • deliberations of the Executive Council;
  • solicitor-client privilege; or 
  • regarding communications prepared by or for a Ministry or public body’s lawyers to be used as legal advice or in litigation.

Identity will be kept confidential unless disclosure is needed for fairness.

How are whistleblowers protected?

The Act prohibits any kind of reprisal against public servants for making a disclosure, seeking advice about making a disclosure, co-operating in an investigation regarding a disclosure, acting in compliance with the Act, or for seeking enforcement of the Act s.139(1).

Under the Act, a reprisal s.139(2) is defined as any measure taken against a public servant which would negatively affect their employment. This could include: 

  • ending or threatening to end a public servant’s employment or appointment;
  • disciplining or suspending or threatening to discipline or suspend a public servant;
  • imposing or threatening to impose a penalty related to the employment or appointment of a public servant; or
  • intimidating or coercing a public servant in relation to his or her employment or appointment.

Any person who knowingly takes any kind of reprisal against a public servant for participating in a disclosure in any way (listed in s.139) is guilty of an offence s.145(2). Additionally, ifa public servant has suffered a reprisal, they  may make a complaint under the Act s.140. However, prosecutions for persons who have taken any kind of reprisal against public servants for disclosing information will not begin until or if there has been a finding of reprisal by a board s.145(3) & s.140(8)

If a public servant has suffered a reprisal, they  may make a complaint under the Act s.140.

How should disclosures be made?

Be careful! Despite presenting some challenges for follow ups, one of the best protections for whistleblowers is their anonymity. Be cautious when providing any information through electronic means, especially emails! Read the security tips section.

The Integrity Commissioner accepts disclosures of wrongdoing from current and former public servants as set out in the Public Service of Ontario Act. To disclose a wrongdoing, please complete the form. 

Anonymous disclosures are reviewed on an individual basis and may be accepted if there is sufficient information to assess whether the disclosure is a current/former public servant, and the alleged wrongdoing falls under the Commissioner’s authority.  Identity will be kept confidential unless disclosure is needed for fairness.

Completed forms should be sent by email to disclose@oico.on.ca or by mail to:

Inquiries Officer
Office of the Integrity Commissioner
2 Bloor Street West, Suite 2100
Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3E2

Questions about the disclosures of wrongdoing process can be sent to: 
disclose@oico.on.ca
416-314-1581 (or toll free at 1-866-884-4470)

For more information on how to disclose a wrongdoing to the Integrity Commissioner, visit http://www.oico.on.ca/home/disclosure-of-wrongdoing.