Canada: Asbestos Wrongdoing Continues

Fri, Mar 17, 2017

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Kathleen Ruff, RightOnCanada.ca

Don Garrett, a general contractor in Hope, British Columbia, tendered for and was awarded a contract by the Canadian government in 2008 to replace toilets and sinks in cells in the Kent Prison, a federal institution.

The Canadian government had a legal duty to inform Garrett of any asbestos hazards present in the areas he and his employees would be working. In spite of repeated requests by Garrett, the government department responsible, Public Works Canada, failed to provide him with any information about asbestos hazards he and his workers would be exposed to.

This failure is all the more outrageous in light of the fact that Public Works Canada had commissioned and had in its possession a 190 page, 2004 report on Asbestos Containing Materials in the Kent Prison. The report identified that the valves that Garrett and his workers would be removing or rebuilding contained asbestos gaskets.

Consequently, because the government had withheld this information, Garrett and his employees were exposed to high levels of asbestos fibres when scraping and removing the old gaskets, which Garrett later learned were 95% chrysotile asbestos.

Prisoners and guards were also exposed to the asbestos fibres that were released into the air and they were also put at risk of asbestos harm.

Still More Injustice

Garrett had information that led him to believe that his experience was not an isolated example and other contractors and workers had previously also been exposed to asbestos harm through the negligent conduct of the government. Garrett believed this was wrong and was not willing to turn a blind eye to this serious governmental wrongdoing.

Realizing that despite all his efforts, the government was determined to cover up its wrongdoing, Garrett therefore filed a complaint in 2011 with the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner (PSIC), Mario Dion. The responsibility of the Commissioner is to investigate complaints of government wrongdoing, obtain redress and protect the whistle blower who filed the complaint, such as Garrett.

The “investigation” that Dion carried out was one characterized by delay, disrespect and negligence. Throughout the two years of the so-called investigation, Garrett was not even interviewed. Nor was Garrett informed of the existence of the Kent prison asbestos report, which, by law, he should have been provided with at the time of submitting his bid.

Dion ignored the clear, direct, damning evidence of asbestos hazards contained in the Kent prison asbestos report and the legal duty of Public Works Canada to provide this information to contractors who would be disturbing and removing the asbestos-containing materials.

In 2013 Dion dismissed Garrett’s complaint, saying he had found no wrongdoing and “processes worked as intended.”

Such a finding is an outrageous denial of justice and in complete contradiction with the evidence. It sends a message that the facts do not matter and that the lives of workers and prisoners do not deserve protection.

Garrett will testify before a Government Committee

Garrett has been invited to testify before a committee of Parliament on March 21, 2017 to speak about his experience as a whistle blower. The Committee (Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates) is reviewing the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act and the work of the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

Other witnesses who will be participating are Tom Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project, Washington, D.C.,  John Devitt, Chief Executive, Transparency International Ireland, Duff Conacher, Co-Founder, Democracy Watch, and  Anna Myers, Director, Whistleblowing International Network.

Will some justice finally be done?

For the past nine years, the Canadian government has acted with callous negligence, covered up and dismissed wrongdoing, treated Don Garrett with contempt and caused irreparable harm to Don Garrett’s life. In addition to having been exposed to asbestos harm by the government’s negligence, Garrett has suffered emotional, financial and business losses.

It is to be hoped that, at the conclusion of its inquiry, the parliamentary committee will issue a report that:

  • Condemns the wrongdoing of Public Works Canada and the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner in their dealings with Garrett.
  • Calls on the Canadian government to give Garrett an apology and compensation for the harm and injustice he has suffered at the government’s hands.
  • Calls for strong action to require all government agencies to fulfil their obligations to protect workers and the Canadian population from asbestos harm.
  • Calls for a fundamental overhaul of the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner to make it truly independent and effective. In Garrett’s case, the Office ignored the evidence, carried out a mockery of an investigation and acted as if its role was to cover up governmental wrongdoing. Its role is supposed to be the exact opposite. It is supposed to show independence and integrity. It demonstrated neither.

Any Canadian who cares about justice will feel great respect and gratitude to Don Garrett for his lonely, courageous battle against government wrongdoing and his efforts to protect others from being exposed to asbestos harm. Anyone who wishes to send a message of encouragement to Don, can post a comment on this page or send me their message, which I will forward to him.

Canada needs more whistle blowers like Don Garrett.

Update

In December 2016, the Trudeau government announced that it will introduce a comprehensive asbestos ban by 2018. “Canadians can be confident that the Government of Canada is making every effort to protect their health and safety, along with the health and safety of their families, co-workers and communities,” stated the government.

It is critical that the government’s plan include clear, effective measures to protect Canadians from asbestos already present in buildings and infrastructure.

It is also critical that the government thoroughly overhaul the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act and the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner so that, contrary to what Don Garrett experienced, whistle blowers will truly receive protection and justice.

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