News Local

Not necessary: Barrie firefighters

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Barrie's new whistleblower program is included in an updated and enhanced city Code of Conduct. MARK WANZEL photo

Barrie's new whistleblower program is included in an updated and enhanced city Code of Conduct. MARK WANZEL photo


Whistleblowing has officially come to Barrie City Hall.

As of September, a formal whistleblower program is in place that allows city staff to anonymously and confidentially report 'fraud and wrongdoing' to an independent third party.

The city defines a whistleblower as someone who exposes any type of illegal, unethical or incorrect information or activity within an organization.

Jacob Reid, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2380, which represents 450 full-time city employees and as many as 150 temporary and casual workers, supports the program.

“I think it's a good thing to have that in place,” he said. “Because it allows not just our unionized members but any employee of the city to be able to basically report wrongdoings.”

Not so said Kevin White, president of Barrie Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 1753, which has 166 members, increasing with new recruits to 175.

“I don't think it's necessary. Our culture as firefighters obviously is to be standup (members) at all times,” he said. “As they said to us in some training, as long as you don't lie, steal or cheat, you'll be fine. That shouldn't be a problem for our members.”

And White said the whistleblower program could cause trouble within the ranks.

“We're a group of four or five ... members on a truck. So when we're four people and one person technically whistle-blows, it won't take very long to figure out who it was,” he said. “And I think that could cause some stress within our environment, because, again, you ask a couple of people and you'll know who it was.

“And if you can't stand up to the other member and say 'yes, I don't appreciate you doing this' then it's going to create some stress in our culture.”

The city already has a provision that allows its employees to report suspected wrongdoing or fraud, normally to a superior.

But this whistleblowing is different because it can be done anonymously, and confidentially – by phone, through a website or a PO box – which are all operated by an independent third party (ClearView Connects, which bills itself as a confidential and anonymous reporting service).

“It gives staff the ability to report with anonymity, so they can remain anonymous,” said Sarah MacGregor, Barrie's director in internal audit. “They don't have to put their name forward. They can if they choose to, but the can also report anonymously. So that's a new ability they didn't have previously.

“We want to encourage staff to report any concerns that they may have,” she said. “If for whatever reason there is a circumstance where they don't feel comfortable reporting it to their supervisor, this offers them the ability and another option.”

Anne Marie Langlois, Barrie's human resources director, said CUPE and Barrie Professional Fire Fighters Association were advised of the whistleblower program and had an opportunity to ask questions about it, but were not part of the program's development.

It's been almost two years since the city began formally looking at a whistleblowing program.

This came after Barrie's former corporate facilities manager was charged with taking $127,000 in kickbacks from a local contractor - who was handed $2.3 million in work without a city-approved contract, court heard.

Both eventually plead guilty and were given 15-month conditional sentences. The two men paid back the $127,000.

Court heard the scheme went undetected for three years, 2011 to 2014, until city employees started to complain about the amounts being billed to the city for snow removal and city repairs done by the contractor.

The city hired a private investigator, at a nearly $260,000 cost.

The whistleblowing program is included in an updated and enhanced city Code of Conduct.

There will be an annual update to the two-year pilot program, reporting to Barrie's finance and corporate services committee each year, and it will be available to city councillors.

With files from Tracy Mclaughlin