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Whistleblower protection laws need fixing | StCatharinesStandard.ca – StCatharinesStandard.ca

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Ashley Jenkins deserved better.

Jenkins is the registered nurse who blew the whistle on terrible conditions at the Rosslyn Retirement Residence in Hamilton. Conditions like bed bugs and mice, like medication with expired dates, no medication records for an entire month, pills outside containers and no narcotic inventory record. Like a senior manager who refused to wear a mask. Like staff reports that their personal protective equipment was locked up and they were only allowed one mask per shift.

The people who operate Rosslyn dispute some of the claims, as does the temp agency where Jenkins worked while assigned to Rosslyn. The owners of the facility are appealing their licence suspension. Its also worth noting that many of Jenkins concerns were similar to other complaints made to the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA) and Hamilton Public Health.

In any case its what happened after that matters in this context. Jenkins reported conditions that she thought were unsafe for residents. Then she was fired. She believes she was fired for blowing that whistle. Not surprisingly the temp agency denies that. But Jenkins asked for work and even offered to travel, but the agency didnt respond. Then they fired her. In the midst of the pandemic, and the agency didnt have work? That strains credulity, to be polite.

The point here is that whistleblowers who report this sort of thing are supposed to have legal protection from retribution. Did Jenkins get the protection she deserved?

This is critically important at this point in time. The pandemic is far from over, another wave is almost certain and may be underway right now. Now, more than ever, workers need protection to make them feel comfortable reporting safety issues, especially those that put vulnerable people at risk.

If you were a worker like Jenkins, would you be comfortable reporting as she did, knowing you could be fired for doing the right thing?

Whistleblower legislation in Canada and in Ontario is broken. In Hamilton this week, Premier Doug Ford disagreed, saying that the laws do protect people. But experts say the protections are not strong enough, and whistleblowers typically face reprisals. They arent always as drastic as what happened to Jenkins, but they are real. They could come in the form of reduced hours, bad shifts or other punitive measures that are difficult for workers to prove are a direct result of blowing a whistle.

David Hutton is a whistleblower protection advocate with Ryerson Universitys Centre for Free Expression. His view of the situation is bleak, as he told Spec journalist Katrina Clarke: Canada is a wasteland when it comes to whistleblower protection. Politicians like Ford can deny and deflect all they want, but the fact is, Jenkins had a job. She did her job by reporting unsafe conditions. And she was fired, coincidentally, we are led to believe.

Governments can do a simple thing to make this situation better. Under current law the onus is on the whistleblower to prove they are the victims of reprisals for speaking out. So it should be a simple matter to change the law so that the whistleblower is protected from blowback to begin with. And to put in place measures that allow quick investigation and resolution when a whistleblower alleges wrongdoing by his or her employer.

If we want people like Ashley Jenkins to keep doing the right thing, it is essential that we make it possible for them to do so without jeopardizing their livelihood and emotional safety. Otherwise, we share the responsibility when whistleblowers dont come forward the next time theres a Rosslyn scandal.

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Whistleblower protection laws need fixing | StCatharinesStandard.ca - StCatharinesStandard.ca

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