Russ Ford's Blog

Bureaucratic Bullying

Today's blog is a story of courage.  It is about  Sue Williams, a woman who decided to put the interests of her clients ahead of her own and paid the price.

You have likely never heard of  Sue.  She is not an entertainer, athlete or politician. She is an occupational  therapist  working in Guelph.

In 2010, she was working for an agency that had a contract with the local CCAC to provide home care services. The CCAC cut front line staff and used the funding to increase its administration.  The CCAC told the public that service cuts were being mandated by the ministry. 

Sue Williams knew that was a lie and wrote a letter to the local newspaper saying so. The CCAC was none too happy to be caught and pressured Sue's employer to fire her.
Now four years later she has reached a financial settlement with the CCAC. The details of the settlement are confidential but Williams was asking for close to a million dollars. She also has a suit against her former employer.

Unfortunately this story is not unique.  Governments are increasingly using such tactics to stifle legitimate public debate. Eric Snowden is the poster boy.  What he did was expose the fact that the American government has been spying on its own citizens. For that he will likely spend the rest of his natural life in jail should he ever return to the United States.  

Let's call it what it is. It is bureaucratic bullying. I am sure the CCAC had some reason for realigning its funding. They opted to lie rather than explain it.  They hid behind the rules rather than hold themselves accountable. 

Bureaucratic bullying is a relatively new phenomena.  In the past, it was  parliamentary tradition for a person who falsely accused another, to resign. It was regarded as the honourable thing to do. 

Freedom of speech is enshrined in the Charter of Rights. Such freedom is however not absolute. It can and is restricted by comments that are slanderous, confidential, private  or that jeopardizes national security. Nowhere in the Charter are there restrictions based on comments that  would make a government official feel uncomfortable. 

Freedom of expression is enshrined in section 2B of the Charter.

The last place a citizen should have to worry about an infringement of their charter rights should be from any government/ government funded agency, for example, a CCAC. One would expect there would be more respect for the fundamental principles of Canadian democracy of which freedom of expression is one. 

The bureaucracy has no "skin in the game."  Other than losing public money by having to pay Sue Williams, the CCAC went back to business as usual.  There are no consequences for engaging in bureaucratic bullying.  Sue Williams lost four years from her career and no doubt spent much on legal fees which will now be covered because she won her case.  Her crime was to publicize the truth about a cut in front line services.

The management of the CCAC will not be held accountable for its strong arm tactics. We know that.  We can only hope that the management of the CCAC and any other public body, found to be in a similar situation does the honourable thing and resigns.  You cannot take away four years of  a person's life with complete immunity.  If you decide to attack the Charter rights of a citizen and lose, there has to be a price.  To shut down  public debate is simply unacceptable from a  government official worthy of public respect.
The CCAC had its lie exposed and somehow felt the appropriate response was to go after the person who exposed their lie.  They may have lost this case but their message has been sent.  Dare to speak up and we will come down on you as hard as we possibly can.  Will the Sue Williams'  case cause others to speak up or will it further discourage people from making legitimate comments for fear of personal reprisal?
Speak and you can expect to be attacked.  What a perversion of our democratic society!
Fortunately for us there are people like Sue Williams and Eric Snowden still around, people who refuse to be bullied, who are likely fueled by the arbitrary actions of  bureaucrats. Our democracy is best served by people like them.



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