Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut June 19, 2017 - 11:45 am

GN workers fear reprisal over complaints to managers: Nunavut’s ethics officer

"While these complaints may or may not be well founded, they do deserve to be given serious consideration"

JANE GEORGE
Jeffrey Schnoor, Nunavut's ethics officer: Previously the deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney-general for Manitoba until he retired in 2013, Schnoor became Nunavut's ethics officer in 2015, following an amendment to the Nunavut Public Service Act, which defines wrongdoing and the actions that civil servants may take to report it. (FILE PHOTO)
Jeffrey Schnoor, Nunavut's ethics officer: Previously the deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney-general for Manitoba until he retired in 2013, Schnoor became Nunavut's ethics officer in 2015, following an amendment to the Nunavut Public Service Act, which defines wrongdoing and the actions that civil servants may take to report it. (FILE PHOTO)

Nunavut needs a way for its ethics officer to investigate allegations of reprisal within the public service and, if proven, to recommend appropriate actions, says Jeffrey Schnoor, Nunavut’s ethics officer.

Nunavut government employees have told him that they fear reprisals if they make complaints within the ranks of the Nunavut public service.

Before going to the ethics officer with a complaint of possible wrongdoing, Government of Nunavut staffers must report a complaint to their senior manager, deputy minister or deputy head, the deputy finance minister or any other deputy minister in the GN.

If, after 30 days of reporting, they don’t think that the authorities in the public service have taken reasonable steps to investigate and/or correct it, they may then make a disclosure to the ethics officer.

But some may be reluctant to take that first step of reporting internally: Some public servants say they fear reprisals for making any complaint—regardless of whether the complaint constitutes a serious breach of the Code of Values and Ethics or otherwise meets the definition of wrongdoing.

This is why Nunavut should allow its workers to get help from the ethics officer if they have made a complaint to senior management and feel they have been punished somehow as a result.

All this is contained in Schnoor’s 2016-2017 annual report which was tabled in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly on June 8.

“This would allow the Ethics Officer to investigate those allegations of reprisal and, if proven, recommend appropriate action.”

Schnoor’s role is to receive and investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the Nunavut public service. Where wrongdoing is found, he makes recommendations to address that wrongdoing.

But “it may be beneficial to consider measures to increase the willingness of employees with concerns that do not relate to wrongdoing to come forward,” he said in his report.

His office is supposed to provide a safe avenue for employees in Nunavut’s public service to disclose wrongdoing that comes to their attention and provide assurance to them—and to all Nunavummiut—that those disclosures will be investigated and addressed “promptly, fairly and effectively.”

That fear of reprisal could explain why the ethics officer was approached fewer times over the past year, Schnoor suggests in his annual report.

“There has been a substantial decrease this year in both the number of requests for advice that I received and the number of disclosures made of wrongdoing. It is difficult to know with certainty whether this represents a positive or a negative trend, ” said Schnoor.

Schnoor—a former deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney-general for Manitoba—became Nunavut’s ethics officer in 2015 following an amendment to the Nunavut Public Service Act which defines wrongdoing and the actions that civil servants may take to report it.

Over the past year, Schnoor reported that he received complaints of inappropriate or unprofessional conduct in the workplace that did not rise to the level of wrongdoing.

He said in his report that in some cases, the allegations, if proven, would amount to conduct that should be addressed by management but that did not constitute a serious breach of the Code of Values and Ethics or otherwise meet the definition of wrongdoing.

“For example, an employee might complain that his or her supervisor lacks competence and is doing a poor job,” Schnoor noticed.

“While these complaints may or may not be well founded, they do deserve to be given serious consideration. However, the employees who have expressed these concerns to me often also express an unwillingness to bring them to management because they fear reprisals.”

It is against the law to penalize a person for making a disclosure of wrongdoing and it can lead fine of up to $10,000.

During 2016-17, Schnoor received notification of two internal disclosures that did not proceed to a disclosure to the ethics officer; this compares with three in 2015-16, his latest annual report notes.

And, during 2016-17, he received three disclosures of wrongdoing; in addition, two disclosures were carried forward from the previous year.

“This is a significant decline from the 11 disclosures received last year,” Schnoor said in the annual report.

The large number—11—received in the previous year could have been because it was the first year an ethics officer was available. Or it could be due to reduced awareness of his office, Schnoor suggested.

But that decline could also be because before going to the ethics officer, a GN employee must first make an internal complaint.

You can reach Schnoor at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or by telephone at 1-844-384-4272 or fax at 1-800-507-0962.

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