A major victory for whistleblowers

February 01, 2024

Image A major victory for whistleblowers

In March 2021, Le Devoir ran an article criticizing Pavillon Richelieu, a youth rehabilitation centre in Baie-Comeau, for failing to provide services for its young clients. Youth workers employed by the centre were suspected of being the newspaper’s source of information, and the employer (CISSS de la Côte-Nord) carried out abusive searches through their emails.

In May 2021, the youth workers were suspended without pay by the employer, who claimed they were guilty of “breaching confidentiality” and filed a grievance against the APTS on the same grounds. The APTS responded by filing grievances on the following grounds:

  • bad faith on the part of the employer,
  • abuse of process,
  • interference in union activities,
  • reprisals,
  • infringement of freedom of expression,
  • infringement of the right to privacy.

In March 2023, arbitrator Jean-Yves Brière accepted APTS arguments, stating that employee emails had been viewed “without reasonable cause.” The arbitrator said that the article published in Le Devoir “did not include any confidential information” that would allow anyone to identify the young people, and he also said that the employer’s attempt to identify whistleblowers violated “basic rights that are crucially important in a free and democratic society.”

In December 2023, the APTS and the CISSS de la Côte-Nord reached a settlement that included the following points:

 -  The Employer acknowledges the Union’s right to make public denunciations, as long as these denunciations [...] are made without malice or falsehood, and respect confidentiality and service users’ right to privacy.

- The Employer acknowledges the right of employees to act as whistleblowers, as long as they comply with all relevant legislation and case law, including the Act to facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoings relating to public bodies.

- The Employer undertakes to review policies and procedures related to internal access to documents in order to respect the rights of the Union and employees.

This settlement is highly significant in that it establishes the legitimacy of whistleblowers and their right to be protected when they denounce a harmful situation in the workplace.