Adieu to a friend, ally in accountability wars

FAIR became a powerhouse of advocacy under the direction of David Hutton, who’s leaving the organization but not advocacy.

Hutton’s leaving: Most frustrating for government were David Hutton’s thorough analyses of Canada’s disturbingly weak whistleblower laws and the frequent lame duck operations of the office entrusted to enforce them, the Integrity Commissioner’s Office, write Allan Cutler, Sean Bruyea, and Ian Bron.

By ALLAN CUTLER, SEAN BRUYEA, IAN BRON -THE HILL TIMES- Published: Monday, 07/21/2014 12:00 am EDT Last Updated: Monday, 07/21/2014 12:03 am EDT

OTTAWA—A stalwart champion for whistleblowers and the laws to protect them is stepping down. Wrongdoers, especially those in government, and their apathetic allies in oversight may think they can take a breather. They may not have long to rest.

There are only two organizations that focus on whistleblowing in Canada—the Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR), and Canadians for Accountability (C4A). FAIR became a powerhouse of advocacy under David Hutton’s direction. Hutton has recently announced he is stepping down.

He recently told The Hill Times he’s taking some time to reflect on his work and said although he is pleased with his accomplishments, he’s not happy with the response from authorities.

“In terms of what’s happened, from the point of view of governments and bureaucrats, we are going backwards,” he told The Hill Times.   

Prior to FAIR, Hutton was already an expert in management systems and organizational change. A senior executive in industry, he later led a successful consulting practice for 20 years, publishing two authoritative books on quality management. Hutton took over as executive director of FAIR in 2008.

He worked arduously to build FAIR. He created the website from scratch, compiling more than 3,000 pages of valuable whistleblower resource material and produced original reference works such as “The Whistleblower Ordeal” and “How Wrongdoers Operate.” Most frustrating for government were Hutton’s thorough analyses of Canada’s disturbingly weak whistleblower laws and the frequent lame duck operations of the office entrusted to enforce them, the Integrity Commissioner’s Office. Kady O’Malley, prolific political journalist, aptly billed FAIR’s website as the “most dangerous website in Ottawa.” Sadly, since Hutton’s departure, FAIR’s website remains down.

Hutton took hundreds of calls from whistleblowers in distress, dispensing advice when he could, seeking collaboration with C4A to help others. He spoke at Parliamentary committees and granted hundreds of interviews. He participated in international forums on whistleblowing and transparency. A notable achievement was ‘International Principles for Whistleblowing Legislation’ by Transparency International. Both C4A and FAIR were active in the development of this international standard.

Hutton was, and we hope continues, working on a documentary about Canadian whistleblowers while compiling video profiles of whistleblowers from all walks of life. He raised the money and did all of this not because he had to and certainly not because he was paid. Like everyone in our organizations, he was a volunteer and did it because he believed that whistleblowers are our best hope at exposing corruption, wrongdoing, and unethical behavior. (And there’s plenty of evidence that they are: research has shown that 40 per cent of fraud is uncovered by whistleblowers.)

Hutton’s work was not always appreciated and often fell on the deaf ears of the insular sandbox of Canada’s federal senior bureaucracy. When Mario Dion became the federal Integrity Commissioner in 2010, he assembled a stakeholder advisory committee. He could not ignore whistleblower and accountability groups such as FAIR, C4A, and Democracy Watch. We were invited.

This committee was sold as an opportunity for whistleblowers and their advocates to be heard. We were led to believe the commissioner wanted us to participate in the process of creating a safe environment for federal government whistleblowers and to improve the laws and systems in place. FAIR and C4A’s expansive contacts with and input from hundreds of whistleblowers provided us with an expertise and insight not available to Dion. We were encouraged by Dion’s initiative. We knew we could help if listened to.

These hopes were dashed in 2012 when Hutton was unceremoniously dumped from the committee. His crime: he had dared to remain publicly critical of the integrity commissioner and the performance of his office. This reaction was to us very telling: we believe that Dion expected us to avoid or ‘sugarcoat’ criticism in return for the quid quo pro of the seat at the table. But we were there to defend whistleblowers and their right to report corruption, mismanagement and/or abusive behavior so that government can be all it claims to be. Sadly, the integrity commissioners have been terrified of integrity.

To get the job done, we must be critics of government’s otherwise blind eye to wrongdoing. We are constructive critics but sugar coating is not required and should not be expected. And, truthfully, this is part of what makes a democracy vibrant. We think that the average grown-up Canadian understands this.  So we are disappointed every time we get this knee-jerk reaction from government officials to blacklist, expel and/or exile voices who merely present inconvenient facts.

Why was Hutton expelled into the wilderness when we had been equally critical of Dion? Whatever small reasons government may have, both C4A and Democracy Watch were appalled. There were no gag orders or leashes placed on any of us by Dion. Hutton violated nothing except a dysfunctional expectation of servitude. We therefore resigned, partly in protest and partly to ensure that Dion could no longer claim that he was consulting with us.

We stress that C4A’s decision to resign from the Advisory Committee was in support of Hutton, the individual, and not necessarily FAIR. He has always been a strong supporter of openness, transparency and gave honest criticism.

Our admiration of what Hutton accomplished continues. Although both C4A and FAIR under Hutton’s direction welcomed whistleblowers from all walks of life, C4A specialized in working closely with whistleblowers while shining a light on accountability failings in the private and public sector. Hutton became Canada’s leading expert in analysis of Canada’s whistleblower laws and the operations of the Integrity Commissioner’s office. We have been fortunate in Hutton’s willingness to collaborate for the common goal of making Canada a better place by advocating for safe, fair, dignified and just avenues for whistleblowers to report those people, events and activities that weaken Canada and hold us back from greater prosperity.

Hutton’s voice and his skills are much needed on what is a bleak landscape for Canadian whistleblowers. The federal government’s whistleblower protection laws are largely ineffective. The cases being brought forward are trivial compared to some of those coming to us. Many of these individuals reporting grievous wrongdoing have already tried the integrity commissioner, and found no remedy or protection from the ruthless reprisals of senior bureaucrats. Most provincial laws are similarly weak, with some being little more than a trap for the unwary. And as for the private sector, there remains almost no protection at all.

Government should cut short their celebration at Hutton’s departure. He has indicated that without the many responsibilities of running a charity like FAIR, he “may be more effective as an advocate for change.” So while we wish him well in leaving FAIR, we hope that we will hear from David Hutton again… soon.

Allan Cutler, Ian Bron and Sean Bruyea are all directors of Canadians for Accountability.

The Hill Times