Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act - Information for employees

The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act (PSDPA) encourages public sector employees to come forward if they believe that wrongdoing has occurred or is about to occur in the workplace.

What you need to know

  1. Be familiar with the main provisions of the Act – its mechanisms for disclosure, its confidentiality provisions, and its reprisal protection measures.
  2. Know what constitutes wrongdoing under the Act.
  3. Understand your choices in making a protected disclosure.
  4. Know what to do if you believe you are the target of a reprisal.
  5. Know where to get related information and advice.

1. Be familiar with the main provisions of the Act – its mechanisms for disclosure, its confidentiality provisions, and its reprisal protection measures.

  • The PSDPA encourages you to come forward if you believe that serious wrongdoing has occurred or is about to occur in the workplace. It protects you from reprisal if you do come forward in good faith, it provides a fair and objective process for those who are accused of wrongdoing, and it protects the confidentiality of all those involved in the disclosure process.
  • While the wrongdoing provisions have attracted much attention, the PSDPA is also a strong support for a positive public sector culture based on values and ethics. It requires that a Public Sector Code of Conduct be developed and approved by Treasury Board, and that each organization have a code of conduct consistent with the public sector code.
  • Employees in most organizations have a choice of three safe and confidential channels for making a disclosure of wrongdoing: to your supervisor, to your organization’s Senior Officer for disclosure, or to the independent Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (PSIC) of Canada.
  • The disclosure process is confidential. Your identity and other information regarding a disclosure will be protected, to the extent possible under applicable laws and certain legal principles.
  • The PSDPA contains strong measures to protect you from reprisal if you make a disclosure in good faith. The Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal has the power to determine if a reprisal has occurred and order corrective action, such as compensation, as well as disciplinary action for those found to have taken the reprisal action.

2. Know what constitutes wrongdoing under the PSDPA

  • The Act defines wrongdoing as:
    • the contravention of any federal or provincial law or related regulation;
    • the misuse of public funds or assets;
    • gross mismanagement in the federal public sector;
    • a serious breach of a code of conduct;
    • an act or omission that endangers the life, health and safety of Canadians or the environment; or
    • directing or counseling someone to commit a wrongdoing.
  • Note that wrongdoing is not restricted to activities of public servants and includes any wrongdoing in or in relation to the public sector.
  • The definition of wrongdoing relates to serious violations that go against public interest or those of the organization.
  • You may be aware of a situation but not sure whether it could constitute a wrongdoing. If you are unsure, contact your supervisor, your Senior Officer for Disclosure or the office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada. However, some questions to ask yourself include:
    • Does this situation affect the public interest? If so, disclosure may be the appropriate channel.
    • Is this about a human resources issue, such as staffing, a collective agreement matter, or harassment? If so, talking with your supervisor, your human resources advisor or your bargaining agent may be the most appropriate starting point.

3. Understand your choices in making a protected disclosure

  • Most organizations must set up an internal disclosure mechanism so that you have three choices for making a protected disclosure:
    • To your supervisor;
    • o To your organization’s Senior Officer for Disclosure; or
    • o To the independent Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada.
  • Each organization must establish its own procedures for receiving and dealing with disclosures, including whether or not a disclosure should be made in writing. Contact the designated Senior Officer for Disclosure if you have questions about your organization’s disclosure procedures.
  • If your organization has established an internal disclosure mechanism, it will have appointed a Senior Officer. If you do not know if your organization has a Senior Officer for Disclosure, consult the list of Senior Officers.
  • If your organization has established an internal disclosure mechanism, it will have appointed a Senior Officer. If you do not know if your organization has a Senior Officer, consult the list of Senior Officers available at the Values and Ethics.
  • A protected disclosure is one which will be protected by the provisions of the PSDPA. This includes a disclosure made in good faith by a public servant:
    • in accordance with the Act – i.e., through the channels listed above;
    • in the course of a parliamentary proceeding;
    • in the course of other procedure established under any other Act of Parliament; or
    • when lawfully required to do so.
  • A disclosure made to the public – for example, to the media – will not be a protected disclosure (i.e., it will not provide you the protection offered by the Act) unless there is not enough time to make the disclosure using the internal or PSIC processes and you believe that there is a serious breach of federal or provincial laws, or an imminent risk of a substantial and specific danger to the life, health and safety of persons, or to the environment.
  • Keep in mind that in making a disclosure, you should provide only as much information as reasonably necessary to make the disclosure, and you must follow regular procedures for handling, communicating and storing the information securely. See the "Guidelines for the Handling of Sensitive Information" for further information on the special provisions and restrictions related to sensitive and special operating information.

Disclosures made to your supervisor

  • You may decide that it is appropriate to make a disclosure to your supervisor.
  • Your supervisor may look into the matter or refer the disclosure to the organization’s Senior Officer for Disclosure, depending on the organization’s procedures. Your supervisor can also advise you about confidentiality and reprisal protection provisions under the Act and outline the next steps in the process.
  • Your supervisor is required to protect your identity and the information related to your disclosure to the extent possible and to act within his or her authority to protect you from reprisal.

Disclosures made to your organization’s Senior Officer for Disclosure of Canada

  • You can also make a disclosure to your organization’s Senior Officer for Disclosure (your organization may have a confidential phone line or e-mail address for this purpose.)
  • The Senior Officer will protect your identity and that of others involved in the disclosure process, subject to certain limits.
  • The Senior Officer will review your disclosure to determine if there are sufficient grounds to investigate. He or she will inform you in writing if there will be no further action.
  • The Senior Officer will ensure that disclosures will be investigated by a neutral and professional investigator, respecting the rights of all those involved. Cases concerning criminal activity will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement authority.
  • If you make a disclosure to your Senior Officer, he or she cannot refer the disclosure to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner. The decision to refer the matter to the PSIC is the employee’s choice.
  • The Senior Officer will review the results of the investigation, prepare recommendations for action and report these directly to the chief executive of your organization – e.g., the Deputy Minister.
  • Finally, he or she will inform you in writing of the results of the investigation and the action that will be taken in response.

Disclosures made to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner

  • You are free to go directly to the PSIC to make a disclosure or to seek advice. There is no requirement that you make a disclosure first within your organization.
  • Also, if you made a disclosure within your organization and you do not believe it was adequately dealt with, you may make a subsequent disclosure to the Commissioner on the matter.
  • The fully independent PSIC is an Agent of Parliament akin to the Auditor General, with all the powers of investigation under Part II of the Inquiries Act.
  • The PSIC has the authority to investigate, report his or her findings, make recommendations on corrective measures to the chief executive concerned and review reports on measures taken in response to his/her recommendations.
  • Like other disclosure mechanisms, information including your identity and that of others involved will be protected by the PSIC, subject to applicable laws and certain legal principles.
  • The PSIC has the right to refuse to deal with a disclosure or to start an investigation, and to stop an investigation, if he or she believes that, for example the matter should be dealt with under another process, such as the grievance process; the matter is not important enough or the disclosure wasn’t made in good faith.
  • You should also know that when starting an investigation, the PSIC will inform the chief executive concerned about the substance of the disclosure. The PSIC may also notify others about the investigation, including those whose acts or conduct has been called into question.
  • The PSIC does not have to hold hearings but if it appears likely that his or her recommendations may adversely affect an individual or organization, that individual or the chief executive responsible for that organization will be given the opportunity to answer any allegation.
  • The PSIC will write a public report regarding an investigation that leads to a finding of wrongdoing and may request that the chief executive notify him or her within a specified time of action taken or proposed to implement the report’s recommendations or why no action has or will be taken. The PSIC may also report on an investigation to the relevant Minister or Crown Corporation board or governing council.
  • The PSIC also reports annually to Parliament and can issue special reports to Parliament as needed.

4. Know what to do if you are the target of reprisals

  • Chief Executives must protect you against reprisal if you have made a disclosure in good faith. Tools to protect you against reprisal include safeguarding your identity to the extent possible under the PSDPA.
  • If, nevertheless, it becomes known in the workplace that you have made a disclosure, you (with your agreement) may be temporarily re-assigned to protect you from potential reprisal, or the subject of your disclosure may be temporarily re-assigned.
  • A reprisal can be any of the following measures: demotion, termination of employment, actions that adversely affect employment or working conditions -- or a threat to do any of those things or to direct someone to do them.
  • If you feel a reprisal has been taken, contact the PSIC. The PSIC is the only route under the PSDPA for receiving reprisal complaints. Alternatively, you can choose to deal with the matter through the grievance process or through another recourse process, if applicable.
  • If the PSIC accepts to deal with the complaint (he or she can refuse in certain situations) the PSIC will conduct an investigation. The PSIC may also appoint a conciliator to attempt to bring about a settlement.
  • If no settlement is reached and if the reprisal investigation warrants it, the PSIC may refer the matter to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal.
  • The Tribunal, which is composed of Federal Court or provincial superior court judges, will determine if a reprisal occurred, and if so, it can order a range of remedial action, including: reinstatement and compensation, as well as disciplinary action for those who have taken a reprisal against you.

5. Know where to get related information or advice

  • For general information on disclosure issues, start with the information available on the Public Servants Disclosure Protection web page.
  • For more specific information and advice, consult your Senior Officer for Disclosure or the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada or by telephone at (613) 941-6400 or 1-866-941-6400.
  • Under certain conditions, the PSIC may provide limited free access to legal counsel for advice (up to $1,500 in most situations and up to $3,000 in exceptional circumstances) at various stages of the disclosure process.
  • You can also consult your bargaining agent for advice at any time.
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