Transport Canada inspector falsified safety reports but details under wraps

Department won't name the mode of transport involved

OTTAWA – A Transport Canada inspector was fired for falsifying inspection reports but the department refuses to say anything more about the misdeeds in order to protect the former employee’s privacy.

Divulging even the mode of transport involved — rail, road, air or marine — would compromise the wrongdoer’s rights, the department says.

A bare-bones description of the case was posted on the department’s website for the fourth quarter of 2012-13 and additional information about a related “systemic problem” was mentioned in a report recently tabled in Parliament.

But details remain sketchy, prompting a pro-democracy group and the official Opposition to call for greater transparency.

New Democrat MP Mathieu Ravignat, the party’s Treasury Board critic, said it’s important to have full information about transportation safety cases in light of the July rail explosion in Quebec that claimed dozens of lives.

“Canadians have a right to know what exactly happened in the case of the Lac-Megantic tragedy and all similar safety situations,” he said.

“The minister must take swift action to ensure the correct tracking and reporting of essential information at Transport Canada.”

The federal whistleblowing law, the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, allows employees a confidential means of disclosing serious wrongdoing in the workplace.

If a resulting investigation confirms improper acts, the senior official of an agency or department, such as the deputy minister, can suspend, demote or fire an employee, the government says. Other legal penalties may also apply.

In addition, the senior official must “provide public access” to information about the wrongdoing and any corrective action taken.

In the Transport Canada case, a whistleblower alleged that a manager “with safety inspection responsibilities” falsified certificates, showed favouritism toward certain owners or operators, and sought incentives to sign the certificates.

“The investigation concluded that two of the three allegations were founded, viz. that the manager had issued certificates without conducting the required inspections (falsification of certificates) and had displayed favouritism towards a particular owner, e.g. by failing to invoice for services provided,” the department said.

There was no direct evidence to support the accusation about incentives.

However, the manager in question “is no longer employed by Transport Canada,” the department added.

With regard to the related “systemic problem,” the department strengthened the program’s management control framework “in order to ensure that similar cases do not occur,” said Maryse Durette, a Transport Canada spokeswoman.

She declined to provide additional information.

“The information disclosed in the course of an investigation under the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act is limited by the Privacy Act,” she said. “Consequently, details as to date, place, mode of transport and company involved have not been included in the referenced reports.”

When pressed as to why the nature of the falsified reports was not disclosed, Durette said, “By providing the mode of transportation, there is a risk the individual’s rights under these acts would be compromised.

“Note that this is consistent with Treasury Board Policy.”

A provision of the Privacy Act allows federal agencies to disclose someone’s identity if it’s in the public interest, noted Duff Conacher, a board member of Democracy Watch, which fights for transparency and high ethical standards in government.

However, that hardly ever happens, and the privacy law must be changed to require that all details be disclosed in cases of wrongdoing because “no one has a right to privacy when they break the rules,” he said.

It’s important to name wrongdoers because otherwise they can go on to be hired by another employer who has no knowledge of their dishonest track record, added Conacher.

Ravignat said the vague nature of the Transport Canada notice is “part of a trend of this government to either obfuscate or conceal information.”

“The Privacy Act should not be used as an excuse to keep important information on sensitive issues like transport safety secret from Canadians.”

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.