The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Act

Overview

The Whistleblower Protection Act (CCSM c P217) protects private and public sector employees who disclose wrongdoings, in writing, to their supervisor, a designated officer or to the Manitoba Ombudsman.  An exception exists, however, in the case of a matter that constitutes an imminent risk to the life, health or safety of persons or the environment, where a public disclosure is possible if there is insufficient time to disclose through the internal procedure. The Act also prohibits any reprisal against an employee who has disclosed a wrongdoing.

What kind of disclosure is protected?

The Act protects private s.31(1) or public sector employees of public bodies such as a government body, department or office, s.27 who, while acting in good faith and on the basis of reasonable belief, have disclosed information to their supervisor, a designated officer, or the Ombudsman regarding a past or potential wrongdoing of this Act s. 10(1)

If a disclosure is made to the supervisor, they must immediately refer the matter to the designated official s.10(2).

If, on reasonable grounds, a person who is not an employee believes wrongdoing has occurred, or is imminent, and has information to disclose, they may provide that information to the Ombudsman s.30(1)

Under the Act, a wrongdoing s.3 includes: 

  • an act or omission constituting an offence under an Act of the Legislature or the Parliament of Canada, or a regulation made under an Act; 
  • an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons, or to the environment, other than a danger that is inherent in the performance of the duties or functions of an employee; 
  • gross mismanagement, including of public funds or a public asset;
  • knowingly directing or counselling a person to commit a wrongdoing.

Under the Act, a designated official s.2 is the senior official designated to receive and deal with disclosures under this Act.

Under the Act, an Ombudsman s.2 means the Ombudsman appointed under The Ombudsman Act.

Who is eligible for protection?

The Act protects private or public sector employees who have disclosed information, in writing, regarding a wrongdoing to their supervisor, a designated officer, or the Ombudsman

Disclosure to the public

As an exception, if on reasonable grounds, an employee believes that there is insufficient time to make a disclosure to the required entities based on an imminent risk of substantial and specific danger to the life, health, and safety of the public, they may make the disclosure to the public. However, the following conditions must be met: 

  • the employee must have first notified appropriate law enforcement authority, or, in the case of a health-related issue, the chief provincial public health officer; and
  • subject to any direction that the agency or officer considers necessary in the public interest s. 14(1).

Immediately following a public disclosure, the employee must disclose the matter to their supervisor or designated officer s. 14(2)

An employee may make a disclosure under this Act, even if a provision in another Act or regulation prohibits or restricts disclosure of the information s.15.

However, In a disclosure, an employee cannot disclose:

  • information related to the Cabinet, except in circumstances mentioned in subsection 19(2) of that Act;
  • information that is protected by solicitor-client privilege;

In the case of a disclosure to the public, information that is subject to any restriction created by an Act or a regulation s.16(1).

How are whistleblowers protected?

The Act prohibits any person from taking any kind of reprisal against an employee who has made a protected disclosure. Any individual who knowingly takes any kind of reprisal against an employee is guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine up to $10 000 s. 33(4)

Under the Act, a reprisal s.27 includes:

  • taking a disciplinary measure against the employee;
  • demoting the employee;
  • suspending the employee;
  • terminating the employment of the employee; or 
  • taking any measure that adversely affects the employment or working conditions of the employee.

The identity of the whistleblower will not be disclosed, including in a civil court proceedings or a proceeding before an administrative tribunal 32.1(1).

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.

A disclosure must be in writing by filling out the Disclosure of Wrongdoing form and sending it by mail or by filling the online form and emailing it to ombudsman@ombudsman.mb.ca. It must include the following information, if known to the employee:

  • a description of the wrongdoing;
  • the name of the person or persons alleged to
    • have committed the wrongdoing, or
    • about to commit the wrongdoing;
  • the date of the wrongdoing; and
  • whether the wrongdoing has already been disclosed and a response received s.12.

An employee must take reasonable precautions regarding personal or confidential information to ensure that no more information is disclosed than is necessary s.16(2).

When considering whether to make a disclosure, an employee may request advice from the designated officer or the Ombudsman s.9(1).

For additional information on how to disclose a wrongdoing, click here or contact the Manitoba Ombudsman.