In late 2009 the City of Montreal set up a whistleblower hot line, and trumpeted the move as a step towards greater accountability. The reality has proved to be quite the opposite. Indeed, the hot line is turning into a parody of best practices.
In the first place, it seems that the city left in place a 2006 “security of information” policy that, among other things, forbids city employees to divulge “confidential,” “reserved,” “internal use” or “personal” information. It doesn’t define the terms so enables management to go after anyone who dares speak out.
To make matters worse, the administration of Mayor Gérald Tremblay moved control of the hotline from the city’s auditor general (who is independent of the administration) to the comptroller general (who isn’t). The result has been a drop in calls of more than 50%.
It’s clear, as David Hutton of FAIR observes in the first article below, that the administration really doesn’t want whistleblowers coming forward. In fact, history and the experiences of other jurisdictions show that such hotlines are often used by management to target whistleblowers. In one book I’ve read, the person making a call to a hotline didn’t make it back to his office before management knew he had complained. They were ready with a letter of termination.
In setting up the hotline in the way it has, employees of the city got the message: call in and there will be no protection – only consequences.
City of Montreal’s whistleblower policy silences staff
The Gazette (Montreal), May 10, 2011
Summary: Imagine that your boss has set up a whistleblower hotline to encourage you to expose wrongdoings by colleagues but has also created an explicit policy forbidding you to blow the whistle and is threatening severe penalties if you do. That’s just what Montreal city hall has done.
Calls to city of Montreal whistleblower hotline plummet
The Gazette (Montreal), May 11, 2011
Summary: The number of tips being left on the city of Montreal’s whistleblower hotline plummeted after the administration of Mayor Gérald Tremblay announced it would transfer control over the line from the city auditor-general to the comptroller-general last fall, figures obtained by The Gazette show.