Louis Robert retires and denounces the silence of public employees

In the interview with Radio Canada, Louis Robert regrets the apathy of public employees who do not dare to report irregularities, even internally.

The agronomist also denounces the growing control exercised over public speaking by civil service experts, even on non-controversial topics.

Almost untouchable

Until his last day at work, the grieving felt a faint on his dismissal and then his reinstatement, which made headlines in 2019.

The subject of my dismissal was somewhat taboo; we haven’t talked much about it, especially going up the hierarchy.

A quote from Louis-Robert

Despite everything, he never suffered reprisals, nor was he Tablet. Rather, he was entrusted with important files. He even took the liberty of filing another wrongdoing report last year to the Protectrice du citoyen.

We have to recognize one thing: Louis Robert enjoyed somehow special status in Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, almost untouchable. Who would still want to prosecute a legitimate informant when the case ends with the Prime Minister’s public apology?

However, your colleagues are not in the same position …

Omerta in the bedrooms

My dismissal, unfortunately, frightened them the mostsays Louis Robert of the other ministry officials.

Just by seeing the behavior of my colleagues within the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foodsituations have come to pass that would have deserved complaints, but they are silent.

A quote from Louis-Robert

The agronomist cannot say what it is. Even retired, a former civil servant is bound by the confidentiality of files. There is a certain loyalty to be maintained and an ethics to be followedrecalls Louis Robert.

However, a certain complaint I am not interested among civil servants in irregular situations.

As soon as they enter public service, they [les fonctionnaires] must think that the duty [de signaler le problème] return to their superiorsHe said, while in reality we all have this responsibility, because we have a mandate to defend the public interest.

Sometimes officials can be scared [de dénoncer]but too often they don’t feel the responsibility to do so.

A quote from Louis-Robert

When you say nothing, you become complicit in problematic situationsHe adds. When they are silent, they choose their side and let the situation continue.

Louis Robert in a field

Louis Robert believes that silence in the face of problematic situations can become complicity.

Photo: Radio-Canada / Ivanoh Demers

Communication between journalists and officials more difficult

Early in his career, Louis Robert says he talked to agricultural reporters without needing the permission of his superiors. A situation unthinkable today.

We have reached unacceptable limitsIn his opinion. One should have no less, but more opportunities to communicate with large numbers.

Over time, the opposite has happened.He adds. We have had increasingly severe restrictions, so much so that public service agronomists hardly appear in the specialized media anymore, because we are not allowed.

Between us, we made jokes: even to talk about the life cycle of earthworms to a reporter, you had to go through the communication office.

A quote from Louis-Robert

Remember that public sector agronomists are responsible for technology transfer; it is a work of communicationtherefore it prevents us from performing an essential function.

In his experience, the more the topic is topical, the more the general public needs our contribution to the knowledge of the problemsbut the opposite happens: the greater the risk of being rejected.

The more important the topic, the less likely you are to talk.

A quote from Louis-Robert

Finds it hard to imagine an official from the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Easily obtain authorization for an interview on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or pesticides. It’s ridiculousHe said. This is a debate we should have.

The former official understands, however, that a public official cannot publicly contradict the orientation of his ministry. except that there is a balance to be achieved and there we have overcome that balance.

Advice for whistleblowers

Louis Robert encourages his colleagues who want to report serious situations to become familiar with the provisions of the Act to facilitate the disclosure of offenses relating to public bodies (New window)and follow the procedure.

In his case, what got him Safethis is the report of the Public Protector (New window) who has shown that they have complied with the law by denouncing the media as a last resort.

Rather, it was his superiors who were accused of failing to respect the confidentiality of his complaint.

Except that one of the senior officials who did not follow the procedure, Geneviève Masse, is still in office at the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It’s a bit disappointing, says Louis Robert. The deputy minister of the time, Marc Dion, instead left the post after the publication of the report.

The law allows you to waive your obligations of loyalty and confidentiality towards the employer when reporting an offense and protects those who report and those who collaborate in an investigation as witnesses from retaliation.

What is the offense under the law?

  • a violation of a Quebec law, a federal law applicable in Quebec, or a regulation enacted under that law;
  • a serious violation of standards of ethics and professional conduct;
  • misuse of funds or assets of a public body, including those it manages or holds on behalf of third parties;
  • a serious case of mismanagement within a public body, including abuse of authority;
  • the fact, by act or omission, that it damages or threatens to seriously damage the health or safety of any person or the environment;
  • direct or advise a person to commit an offense.

The Quebec government is currently working to improve the law in order to put in place new, clearer and more effective reporting mechanisms that will be better publicized.

Despite everything that has happened to him, Louis Robert has not no regrets, and he would do what he would do tomorrow morning if it were necessary. He says he did it for the audience, who, with their great support, reminded him how right he was.

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