The Quebec government has proposed new measures to encourage the disclosure of wrongdoing in the public sector. On December 2, 2015, Martin Coiteux, the Minister responsible for Government Administration and Ongoing Program Review and Chair of the Conseil du trésor sponsored and introduced Bill n°87: An Act to facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoings within public bodies (the “Bill”).The purpose of the legislation is to “facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoings within public bodies and to establish a protection regime against reprisals.” In brief, the Bill creates a formal regime for whistleblowing “wrongdoings” in “public bodies”.

At first glance, the Bill may appear principled and as clean as a whistle. However, this ambitious bill has a highly robust ambit. Its scope is a vast array of alleged misconduct and it affects most of the public sector. The definition of public bodies includes even government enterprises, ministers, health facilities, crown corporations, school boards and university-level educational institutions. Furthermore, the definition of wrongdoing is also defined very broadly. Among the enumerated list of actions which constitute wrongdoing and which trigger the application of the formal whistleblowing regime is “gross mismanagement”. Other wrongdoings include a contravention of a law, a serious breach of the standards of ethics, a misuse of funds or assets belonging to a public body, and any act or omission that seriously compromises or may seriously compromise a person’s health or safety or the environment. Directing or counselling a person to commit any of the above also constitutes wrongdoing.

The disclosure of wrongdoing can also be made by anyone, whether or not an employee of the impugned public body. Nevertheless, the Bill expressly excludes disclosures made for personal purposes not in the public interest and disclosure the purpose of which is to question the merits of the policies and program objectives of the Government or of a public body. While the Bill does protect the whistleblower from retribution, it offers no rewards or incentives beyond punishing the target of the protected disclosure.

One would not be merely whistling dixie to emphasize the profound impacts that the Bill can have. The Bill raises a variety of deceptively complicated issues and, by casting the legislative net so wide, there is a risk of opening Pandora’s Box of frivolous whistleblowing complaints.

This blog post is meant only to wet your whistle and inform you about the potential forthcoming impact of a bill that raises complex societal issues beyond its legislative framework. The substance of the Bill is subject to ongoing review and comments are currently being accepted. Given the complexity and potential impact of Bill 87, it is anticipated that many interested parties will want to be heard as part of its continuing review.

The full version of the Bill can be found on the Quebec National Assembly website at the following link: http://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/travaux-parlementaires/projets-loi/projet-loi-87-41-1.html.

The press release can be consulted at the following link: http://www.fil-information.gouv.qc.ca/Pages/Article.aspx?aiguillage=ajd&type=1&idArticle=2312025425&lang=en