The eternal crucifixion of the whistleblower

 

“The agrologist must promote measures of education and information in the field in which he practises. He must also do all things necessary to ensure such education and information.” (Government of Quebec, 2019). This is Section 7 of the Code of ethics of agrologists, within Division 2 – “Duties towards the public”.  As any aspiring agrologist is taught early-on in his/her training, the primary mandate of the profession is ultimately the protection of the general public. What happens, however, when such ethical ideals aren’t supported, nor protected, at the highest level of public service?

This is a frightening question that must be considered when reflecting on the recent firing of the Ministre de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec’s (MAPAQ) esteemed agrologist Louis Robert in January of 2019 (Pineda, 2019). Mr. Robert, an agrologist who had invested 32 years as an employee of the MAPAQ, was fired for providing evidence of industry interference in scientific findings made at the Centre de recherche sur les grains (CÉROM) to local news media sources, Le Devoir and Radio-Canada (Gerbet, 2018; Pineda, 2019). The decision to turn to the media came only after the fruitless attempts of sounding the alarm internally (Pineda, 2019).

With every scientific inquiry, naturally comes an interested group. This is the driving force that not only catalyzes the initial questions and hypotheses behind our scientific inquiries, but is also the economic force that funds these ideas into fruition. Interest in any scientific exploration, from all levels of its practical application, is essential. It is thus natural that representatives of the Producteurs de grains du Québec would be a part of CÉROM’s administrative council, given its research is on grain crops. This group clearly has a vested interest in studying the many facets of these crops, which could aid in further evolving the efficiency and safety of their production. Clearly, many stakeholders can gain from such a marriage, including the general public. The issue at hand, however, is when such a group intervenes and disrupts the objectivity that scientific research requires. Furthermore, when externalities can result from these actions and public safety and education are sacrificed, a line has been crossed. Is it then not only morally right, but also Mr. Robert’s legal duty to “…do all things necessary…” in order to ensure the public, whom he is mandated to protect in the scope of the agricultural domain, is informed of such a clear breach of ethics from a publicly funded organization? More importantly, however, where are the safety nets that we as a society require in order to protect the brave few who risk everything – their careers, livelihood, reputation – to expose social and criminal injustices?

In fact, Bill 87, tabled by the Quebec government in 2015, set-out to do just that. This piece of legislation, which came into force in May 2017 (ANQ, 2019), was designed to facilitate whistleblowing in Quebec’s public sector (CBC, 2015). As we can see in the case of Mr. Robert, this law is clearly ineffective. Regardless of the channels chosen by Mr. Robert to disseminate this information, the spirit of this very law was enacted to protect these true civil servants from losing their jobs. The Edward Snowden’s, Jeffrey Wigand’s, Bradley Manning’s, and now Louis Robert’s of our world need not only be protected, but encouraged to step forward and openly denounce those who have chosen to set their own ethical standards. Far more stringent legislation needs to be put in place in order to ensure that we as a society are aware and informed of such practices; especially when it is being funded from our very pockets. As we can see, now in 2019, we are still nowhere near where we need to be as a society in protecting those who would sacrifice everything for the greater good of their community.

Sascha MacIntosh-Hobson

References

Assemblée Nationale du Québec (ANQ). 2019. Bill no87: An act to facilitate the disclosure of wrongdoings relating to public bodies (modified title). Assemblée nationale du Québec. Accessible at: http://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/travaux-parlementaires/projets-loi/projet-loi-87-41-1.html?appelant=MC (last viewed February 10, 2019).

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). 2015. Whistleblower protection bill for public-sector workers tabled in Quebec. CBC/Radio-Canada. Accessible at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/whistleblower-protection-bill-87-quebec-1.3347547 (last viewed, February 10, 2019).

Gerbet, T. 2018. Radio-Canada. Pesticides: quand le privé administre la recherche publique québécoise. Société Radio-Canada. Accessible at: https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1086727/cerom-mapaq-agriculture-ministere-pesticides-grains-overbeek-recherche-prive-public (last viewed, February 10, 2019).

Government of Quebec. 2019. Légis Québec: A-12, r.6 – Code of ethics of agrologists. Governement du Québec. Accessible at: http://legisquebec.gouv.qc.ca/fr/showdoc/cr/a-12,%20r.%206 (last viewed, February 10, 2019).

Pineda, A. 2019. Le Devoir. Le renvoi d’un lanceur d’alerte soulève l’indignation. Le Devoir. Accessible at: https://www.ledevoir.com/politique/quebec/546687/le-ministre-de-l-agriculture-a-personnellement-autorise-le-congediement-d-un-lanceur-d-alerte (last viewed, February 10, 2019).

2 responses to “The eternal crucifixion of the whistleblower”

  1. kairockafield says:

    1 – Intriguing, poetic
    2 – There is currently insufficient legislation to protect whistleblowers
    3 – The strongest part of this article is the explanation of typical and acceptable interaction between interested parties and research. It helped to show where the ethical line had been crossed.
    4 – Protecting whistleblowers protects the public, because otherwise potential whistleblowers may decide it is too risky.
    5 -The questions at the end of the third paragraph seem unnecessary and are confusing. Mr. Robert is compelled by his professional code to protect the public; it is unclear from your article as to whether he was fired because he disclosed confidential information to the media. In that case it would be more pertinent to discuss how the two conflicting rules he must abide by are to be balanced.
    – I would find your argument more appealing if you first stayed objective while laying out the facts of the case, and then stated your opinions about it afterwards; do not intersperse the two together. It is also confusing that you intersperse concern over what Mr. Robert was blowing the whistle on with your concern over his (improper?) firing.

  2. sandrinedelattre says:

    1- Imagé et original
    2- Les lanceurs d’alertes ne sont pas suffisamment protégés, même si ce qu’ils font est dans l’intérêt du public.
    3- Le fait que l’auteur parle de la mission première d’un agronome, soit la protection du public, nous fait comprendre dans quel dilemme moral et professionnel Louis Robert se trouvait, et aussi nous démontre l’injustice de son congédiement par le MAPAQ suite à la divulgation d’informations confidentielles aux médias.
    4- L’explication du projet de loi 87 et de sa fonction, ainsi que son échec dans le cas de M. Robert appuie très fortement le message du texte.
    5- La partie qui explique que certains membres des Producteurs de grains du Québec font partie du CÉROM n’est pas super clair : est-ce que ce sont les Producteurs de grains du Québec qui s’ingéraient dans les recherches, ou des compagnies privées d’intrants? Une brève description claire, avec les noms de tous les partis impliqués, aurait pu mettre la table pour le sujet. Certaines phrases du texte sont longues et on doit les relire plus d’une fois pour comprendre leur sens.

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