Safer disclosure for U of M members

A new safe disclosure policy, in effect since March 20, gives members of the university community the ability to bring concerns about “wrongdoing” forward without fear of punishment.

The Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) act received royal assent in 2006 and various public bodies, including the University of Manitoba, were required to adopt a policy that complied with its requirements.

The university has been working on the policy for some time. On March 20 it was approved by the Board of Governors.

It was created by a number of administrative offices, including vice president (admin), legal, human resources and audit.

The policy was also circulated to the employee unions for consultation.

Gregory Juliano, general counsel and director of the office of fair practices and legal affairs, said the policy’s goal is to improve the university’s risk management and compliance efforts by encouraging people to bring forward concerns without fear of retribution.

“We hope the change will be to make people feel more secure in bringing forward concerns,” said Juliano.

He added the policy will impact students by strengthening the overall institution.

He explained the policy is not the only way to bring forward concerns about potential wrongdoing, but when people in the community feel their concerns are not taken seriously they can activate formal investigatory procedures.

The policy defines “wrongdoing” as an “act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health, or safety of persons or the environment,” gross mismanagement of public funds or assets, and “knowingly counselling a person to commit wrongdoing.”

It applies to many individuals including people who are not employed by the university, such as students, volunteers and members of the public with a strong connection to the U of M.

Deborah McCallum, vice president (administration), said the policy will hopefully result in the university being made aware of serious issues earlier, so effects can be mitigated.

“Each disclosure will be reviewed to determine if it has been made in good faith and that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a wrongdoing has occurred,” McCallum explained.

She added an investigation would then be undertaken, if appropriate.

“The only anticipated cost will be the cost of the investigations if it is necessary to hire external investigators,” said McCallum.

She explained in most cases it is expected the university will conduct the investigations in-house.

A disclosure can be made to a person’s supervisor in the case of an employee, or to the dean, department head or provost in the case of a student.

“I expect [the policy] will be well received,” McCallum said.

“I believe that this policy will contribute to making the University of Manitoba a better and safer place to work and learn, contributing to the university’s strategic priorities of being an outstanding employer and enhancing the student experience,” said McCallum.

Brad McKenzie, immediate past president of UMFA who sits on the Board of Governors, said this kind of policy is generally a good thing but UMFA has some concerns with it.

MacKenzie explained the new policy requires all employees to report any alleged sort of problem they come across as opposed to reporting it on a voluntary basis.

“It moves beyond what the provincial act requires,” McKenzie added.

He said you have to consider what protection people will have if they are accused of not reporting something.

“We believe in whistleblower legislation we want to be sure that all people’s rights are protected under the policy and the procedures that follow,” Mckenzie said.