Submission to the Communication Team of the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada (PSIC)

Supplement to the Evaluation of PSIC’s Outreach and Engagement Strategy, Initiatives and Activities (April 1, 2012 – March 31, 2015)


Andrée Paige

March 31, 2017


This document is also available in [[{"fid":"3342","view_mode":"teaser","fields":{"format":"teaser"},"type":"media","attributes":{"class":"file media-element file-teaser"},"link_text":"PDF"}]].

Objective of This Submission to the PSIC Communications Team
Challenges and Realities Impacting PSIC
PSIC's Mandate and TBS' Code
Recommendations not included in the Evaluation


Under separate attachment, a document entitled Evaluation of PSIC’s Outreach and Engagement   Strategy, Initiatives and Activities (April 1, 2012 – March 31, 2015) was submitted to the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada (PSIC), dated March 31, 2017.

In December 2016, PSIC retained the services of the OTUS Group to conduct an evaluation of the communication team’s outreach and engagement initiatives and activities between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2015. The main objective of this evaluation was two-fold:

  1. Review the document PSIC Outreach and Engagement Strategy 2012-2015 with Annual Activity Plans (dated June 2012), as well as the follow-up document PSIC Outreach and Engagement Strategy 2014-2015 (dated August 2014), to determine whether the strategies, initiatives and activities identified were implemented and whether they successfully contributed to raising awareness among stakeholders between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2015.
  2. Provide feedback and recommendations for improvements.

Note: It was requested that the evaluation should include a specific focus on assessing targeted outreaches and operational achievements.


Objective of This Submission to the PSIC Communication Team

What follows is an unsolicited submission to the PSIC Communication Team that presents three recommendations culminated from up to 18 interview participants during the evaluation process.

Important to note is that it was clearly communicated to interview participants that the objective of the evaluation was to focus solely on PSIC’s communication team. Regardless, many interview participants made a point of expressing that effective communication is in fact a shared responsibility. As a direct result, some feedback was directed at the Commissioner and all PSIC staff, not only to the communication team, with the hope it would be received and considered.

Their stated intent was not to interfere with PSIC’s mandate, but instead to provide perspectives that could enable PSIC to realize where and how it can make improvements in the future.


Challenges and Realities Impacting PSIC

In Section 5 of the evaluation, the following challenges and realities impacting PSIC were noted (this list is abbreviated, with full details presented beginning on page 4 of the evaluation:

  • PSIC’s reputation prior to April 1, 2012 (i.e. PSIC’s formative years)
  • Definition of wrongdoing
  • Interpretation of the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act (i.e. PSDPA or “the Act”)
  • The culture of whistleblowing
  • Reluctance to use whistleblowing services
  • Major stakeholders are widely dispersed and numerous
  • PSIC’s performance cannot be measured solely by the number of cases it publishes
  • PSIC cannot enforce discipline for wrongdoing

Together, these challenges and realities do not prevent PSIC from successfully advancing an outreach and engagement strategy, but they do create potential obstacles such as misunderstandings, misperceptions and communication gaps that may prove difficult or time-consuming to overcome. 


PSIC’s Mandate and TBS’ Code

While conducting research, the following excerpts were considered while assessing what feedback or recommendations were relevant to PSIC’s mandate:

  • Section 4 of the Act: The Minister (President of Treasury Board) must promote ethical practices in the public sector and a positive environment for disclosing wrongdoings by disseminating knowledge of this Act and information about its purposes and processes and by any other means that he or she considers appropriate.
  • Section 10.1 of the Act: Establishment of internal disclosure procedures – Each chief executive must establish internal procedures to manage disclosures made under this Act by public servants employed in the portion of the public sector for which the chief executive is responsible.
  • Section 10.2 of the Act: Each chief executive must designate a senior officer to be responsible for receiving and dealing with, in accordance with the duties and powers of senior officers set out in the code of conduct established by the Treasury Board… [etc.]
  • Excerpts from the TBS Code:
    • Avenues for resolution: The expected behaviours are not intended to respond to every possible ethical issue that might arise in the course of a public servant’s daily work. When ethical issues arise, public servants are encouraged to discuss and resolve these matters with their immediate supervisor. They can also seek advice and support from other appropriate sources within their organization.
    • Public servants at all levels are expected to resolve issues in a fair and respectful manner and consider informal processes such as dialogue or mediation.
    • As provided by sections 12 and 13 of the PSDPA, if public servants have information that could indicate a serious breach of this Code, they can bring the matter, in confidence and without fear of reprisal, to the attention of their immediate supervisor, their senior officer for disclosure or the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.
    • Senior officers for disclosure are responsible for supporting the chief executive in meeting the requirements of the PSDPA. They help promote a positive environment for disclosing wrongdoing, and deal with disclosures of wrongdoing made by employees of the organization. Further information on the duties and powers of senior officers for disclosure can be found in the attached Appendix.
    • Members of the public who have reason to believe that a public servant has not acted in accordance with this Code can bring the matter to an organizational point of contact that has been designated for the handling of such concerns or to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to disclose a serious breach of this Code.


  • Appendix:

Chief Executives

Chief executives of public sector organizations have specific responsibilities under the PSDPA, including establishing a code of conduct for their organization and an overall responsibility for fostering a positive culture of values and ethics in their organization. They ensure that employees are aware of their obligations under this Code and their specific organizational code of conduct. They also ensure that employees can obtain appropriate advice within their organization on ethical issues, including possible conflicts of interest.

Chief executives ensure that this Code, their organizational code of conduct, and their internal disclosure procedures are implemented effectively in their organization, and that they are regularly monitored and evaluated. Chief executives of Crown corporations may rely on their boards of directors for support in this duty.


Senior Officers for Disclosure

The senior officer for disclosure helps promote a positive environment for disclosing wrongdoing and deals with disclosures of wrongdoing made by public servants of their organization. Senior officers are responsible for supporting the chief executive in meeting the requirements of the PSDPA.

The senior officer’s duties and powers within his or her organization also include the following, in accordance with the internal disclosure procedures established under the PSDPA:

1.Provide information, advice and guidance to public servants regarding the organization’s internal disclosure procedures, including the making of disclosures, the conduct of investigations into disclosures, and the handling of disclosures made to supervisors.

2.Receive and record disclosures and review them to establish whether there are sufficient grounds for further action under the PSDPA.

3.Manage investigations into disclosures, including determining whether to deal with a disclosure under the PSDPA, initiate an investigation or cease an investigation.

4.Coordinate handling of a disclosure with the senior officer of another federal public sector organization, if a disclosure or an investigation into a disclosure involves that other organization.

5.Notify the person(s) who made a disclosure in writing of the outcome of any review and/or investigation into the disclosure and on the status of actions taken on the disclosure, as appropriate.

6.Report the findings of investigations, as well as any systemic problems that may give rise to wrongdoing, directly to his or her chief executive, with recommendations for corrective action, if any.

Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat—Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer

In support of the Treasury Board President’s responsibilities under section 4 of the PSDPA, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO) is responsible for promoting ethical practices in the public sector.[5] The OCHRO will work with all relevant partner organizations to implement and promote this Code, and will provide advice to chief executives and designated departmental officials with respect to its interpretation.

The Chief Human Resources Officer may issue directives, standards and guidelines related to this Code.


Recommendations Not Included in the Evaluation

In Section 7 of the evaluation, only recommendations considered to be relevant to PSIC were included.

Interview participants who wanted their recommendations submitted, but which either contradict or fall outside of the scope of PSIC’s mandate as per the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, are being provided to PSIC in this document.

The following recommendations are being provided in good faith. The reasons for submitting them separately from the evaluation have been communicated to the PSIC communication team:

1)  The Act, Chief Executives and the Commissioner

OBSERVATIONS OR PERCEPTIONS: The Act refers to multiple instances when the Commissioner should contact or present information to the Chief Executive, and yet it is Senior Officers who are responsible for receiving and dealing with internal disclosures of wrongdoing made by public servants employed in the portion of the public sector for which the Chief Executive is responsible.

Several interview participants commented that only dealing with the Chief Executive while expecting or hoping briefings or a flow of information will “trickle down” in effective ways to the Senior Officer, management and public sector levels is “unrealistic.” In addition, participants commented that high-level discussions or “one-size-fits-all” messages are not easily absorbed by the general employee population.

Participants provided feedback that Senior Officers would like to be included whether the Act requires it or not.

While it was acknowledged that outreaches to the Senior Officer community have occurred in the past, interview participants suggested it is far easier for them to forward information received from PSIC through their respective employee networks—and in many cases, send tailored messages to specific target groups such as middle management, human resources or the general employee population.

  • RECOMMENDATIONS: The following items were proposed for consideration:
    • The Commissioner, ideally accompanied by a PSIC employee, is being encouraged to spend more face-time with Chief Executives and their Senior Officers, even if it’s for as little as 15 minutes per meeting once per year. Senior Officers would like to get to know the person who is a Commissioner and build a rapport, rather than become acquainted with a title and online resources. If this approach is not manageable for the Commissioner, Chief Executives and their Senior Officers could be organized and assembled to be met with as groups.
    • Separate from this outreach, the PSIC communication team might consider refocusing outreach activities to develop stronger relationships with Senior Officers. Be willing to spend time with individual or clusters of Senior Officers at least once per year, making presentations that allow for interactive Q&A sessions. Obtain feedback during these in-person exchanges about how best to make vertical interventions to the middle management community and the general employee population within their department.
    • Consider creating a newsletter from the Commissioner to Senior Officers that discusses themes and issues, provides helpful links, unveils links to new videos, announces the posting of new case reports, etc. Tailor each series of messages for three target audiences: 1) the Chief Executive (peer, high level), 2) management (highlights of the Act, key messages to effectively reach employees) and 3) public sector employees (lower level, basics, tips, links). Remove the “suit from Ottawa” aspect of it and humanize it so they can relate to the content.

2)  PSIC, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) and Training Senior Officers 

OBSERVATIONS OR PERCEPTIONS: It is recognized that there may be confusion about whether the onus should be on TBS or PSIC to take a more proactive role in educating employees about the Act and PSIC’s role.

Despite the understanding that PSIC is not directly mandated to educate public sector employees, there is disappointment among several interview participants that PSIC could be doing more because it has the resources to promote its own value through workshops, presentations and sessions—and because it once fulfilled this training role in an unofficial capacity.

Prior to 2012, two-day or one-day sessions delivered up to three times per year were offered to Senior Officers. These sessions were organized by Senior Officers but funded by PSIC. They included scenarios, case studies, analyses, break-out sessions, guidance regarding investigations, panel discussions, and presentations from national or international experts. Despite the fact interview participants felt that the sessions were well-received and well-attended, the perception of these stakeholders is that PSIC withdrew because the Act does not require PSIC to engage in this level of education and training.

There are two other reasons why several participants suggested that Senior Officers would like more guidance from PSIC:

1) There is a tendency among Senior Officers to feel like the internal disclosure process has “failed” if a public servant chooses to go to PSIC—even if this may not be the case. Can best practices be shared?

2) The majority of Senior Officers have never had an investigation by PSIC conducted in their department, so their level of familiarity or understanding may be lacking until or unless PSIC reaches out to them. Most Senior Officers who were interviewed ideally want PSIC to initiate contact with them.

  • RECOMMENDATIONS: Make it a priority—even if the Act is vague on this point—to provide training and guidance to new Senior Officers and offer refresher training for those who would like to learn more or better understand the Act and PSIC’s role. The majority of interview participants external to PSIC expressed that PSIC has a larger budget, more resources and more freedom than the TBS to engage in proactive and collaborative outreaches and to educate and train Senior Officers and their subordinates. Some efforts to conduct exhibit-based outreaches to broader or miscellaneous employees could instead be redirected to “train the trainer” workshops within the Senior Officer community. Perhaps one or two sessions could be held every year, making it worthwhile for people to travel and participate. In turn, more public sector employees could be reached as a direct result of having access to PSIC-trained Senior Officers and subordinates. At the very least, PSIC can engage Senior Officers to assist them with planning exhibit-based events and help attract more employees.


3)  Establishing a Feedback Mechanism

OBSERVATIONS OR PERCEPTIONS: According to some interview participants, there is currently no known feedback mechanism for stakeholders external to PSIC.

With the names of complainants and witnesses held in strictest confidence by PSIC, it is understandable—although it poses a challenge—for Senior Officers to feel confident that their employees are treated fairly during an investigation.

If they perceive or receive feedback from their employees that for example, a particular investigator’s behaviour upset an employee or that a letter written by PSIC was too tersely written, there is currently no mechanism to provide feedback to PSIC.

When providing feedback is not an option, this prevents awareness about issues and opportunities to make improvements.

  • RECOMMENDATION: Launch a feedback mechanism for Senior Officers that is managed by the communication team at PSIC, who can share and discuss this feedback with PSIC staff and work with them to make improvements. If a satisfaction survey is reintroduced (there was a pilot survey identified in the 2014-2015 Strategy document), it should continue to focus on the person’s experience with the complaint or investigative process, not the outcome of an investigation or Tribunal ruling.

The observations, perceptions and recommendations presented in this submission are to be considered at the discretion of PSIC.