02/05/2019 17:23 EST | Updated 02/05/2019 17:23 EST

Doug Ford Government Aims To 'Intimidate' Public Servants With Firing: Expert

A public service employee lost their job after the Ontario NDP gave leaked documents to reporters.

Canadian Press
Premier Doug Ford is seen in the Ontario legislature. His office told reporters that a bureaucrat with the Ontario Public Service was no longer employed after the NDP released leaked documents on Monday.

TORONTO — Ontario's laws need to change to better protect bureaucrats like the one who lost their job after leaked documents were released on Monday, experts and union leaders say.

"There is hardly any effective protection for whistleblowers in any sector," James Turk, the director of Ryerson University's Centre for Free Expression told HuffPost Canada in an interview on Tuesday.

"Leaking is a common practice ... In the long run, the public is better served when there are leaks."

The Ontario NDP gave reporters three internal documents about the government's plan to update the health-care system on Monday.

It's very unusual, except in extreme situations, for the government to fire somebody over a leak.James Turk

Hours later, Premier Doug Ford's office released a memo from the Ontario Public Service, announcing that the police had been called and the person responsible for the breach was no longer employed.

"It's very unusual, except in extreme situations, for the government to fire somebody over a leak," Turk said.

"I think that what's happening is the government is planning things that it suspects could be unpopular ... and wants to send a clear message that there's going to be no tolerance whatsoever for any leaking of documents."

James Turk is the director of Ryerson University's Centre for Free Expression and a distinguished visiting professor. (Credit: James Turk)

By law, Ontario's public servants are protected from reprisal if they expose criminal activity or anything that poses a major risk to public safety or the environment. In this case, the person is not protected because the documents were about the government's health-care plans.

The employee has not been identified. Their union, The Association of Management, Administrative and Professional Crown Employees of Ontario (AMAPCEO), refused to tell HuffPost if it will be intervening.

But AMAPCEO "takes seriously its obligations as a union" and provides representation for any member who is disciplined or fired, director of membership services Michael Mouritsen said in an email.

The Ford government is trying to "put a chill on people so they won't talk," said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, the president of another union that represents tens of thousands of workers in Ontario's public service.

"I'd say that morale is low. People are fearful," the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) president told HuffPost.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) President Warren (Smokey) Thomas speaks to reporters at Queen's Park in Toronto, on Jan. 21, 2019.

"There is a terrible fear of speaking up because if you speak up, you're liable to get fired."

A spokeswoman for the Ontario Provincial Police confirmed that the force received a call about the leak. Officers are reviewing the case but haven't opened a formal investigation, Staff Sgt. Carolle Dionne told HuffPost.

Spokespeople for the premier's office and the Ministry of Health did not respond to HuffPost's questions about why the police were called and what laws may have been broken.

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Calling the police helps the government send a message to public servants, Turk said, regardless of whether or not the person ends up being charged.

"It's part of the intimidation."

Turk said the "severity" of the government's reaction will make bureaucrats more cautious when they leak information, but it won't stop leaks.

"They're understandably quite angry that they've lost control of this story. But in a democratic society, the public depends on leaks and journalists depend on confidential sources," he said.

"Governments always hate those things."

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