February 29, 2024

One professional says the shortage of tips for public servants utilizing social networks is guilty for the continued controversies

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After a sequence of antisemitic Fb posts relationship again to 2018 and 2019 resurfaced final week, Camille Awada resigned as president from the third-largest federal public service union, the Canadian Affiliation of Skilled Workers (CAPE). He was additionally fired from his part-time job with the Canadian Soccer League. And Statistics Canada, the place Awada has labored for greater than 20 years as an industrial analyst, info supervisor and programmer, mentioned it was launching an investigation into his feedback.

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That is hardly the primary time a public servant has been reprimanded for feedback on social media.

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Simply final month, the Privy Council Workplace launched an investigation after senior analyst Nisam Siddiqui made a sequence of posts on social media accusing Canada and different Western nations of “appearing as enablers” permitting Israel to keep up “its brutal racist apartheid occupation.”

In 2015, a Canada Income Company worker was fired for writing social media posts that “appeared to glorify the Boston Marathon terror bombing, have a good time the deaths of NATO army personnel, and cheer the downing of plane,” based on a federal labour board ruling.

That very same yr, an Setting Canada scientist was suspended and investigated for publishing his tune “Harperman” on YouTube, which known as for the ouster of the Conservative authorities. The civil servant retired from public service slightly than wait out the investigation.

However whereas the federal service will typically cite the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector that civil servants should strictly respect, there’s little within the textual content that gives any guidelines as to what public servants can — or can’t — say on social media. In actual fact, there is no such thing as a reference to social media wherever within the code, which first got here into pressure in 2003.

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College of Ottawa legislation professor Gilles Levasseur says the shortage of tips round public servants’ use of social networks is guilty for the continued controversies.

Pointers are wanted, says legislation professor

Gilles Levasseur
Gilles LeVasseur, lawyer, economist and professor. Picture by Craig Robertson /Postmedia

Treasury Board President Anita Anand reiterated final month that every one public servants are anticipated to stick to the values and ethics code when talking publicly – however conceded there have been no particular tips on how public servants might touch upon the Israel-Hamas conflict.

What the doc does define is the anticipated behaviours of public servants, together with that they keep respect for democracy and folks, act with integrity in a fashion that may “bear the closest public scrutiny” and keep the employer’s belief, use sources responsibly and exhibit skilled excellence.

Levasseur mentioned it’s essential the code be up to date not solely to spell out what folks can and may’t share on-line, but in addition what the results are for breaking the foundations.

“We have to have methods that information these folks,” he mentioned.

Levasseur mentioned it’s additionally essential that workers keep in mind that they characterize the company picture of an establishment.

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“Freedom of expression has a restrict if you’re really inside a corporation,” Levasseur mentioned. “If it assaults human rights, if it assaults the integrity or status of others, that’s not acceptable in our society. You can not begin criticizing the insurance policies of the establishment, since you’re contained in the field, so both you really shut up otherwise you get out.”

Pointers may be misinterpreted, says union head

Jennifer Carr
Jennifer Carr, President of the Skilled Institute of Public Service of Canada. Picture by Julie Oliver /Postmedia

There are a whole lot of “gray areas” about what public servants can say publicly, mentioned Jennifer Carr, president of the Skilled Institute of the Public Service of Canada.

“So long as their speech is just not in opposition to their employer, so long as they’re not hateful or breaking any of the opposite guidelines, we want to have the ability to have the liberty to talk as residents,” she mentioned. “Public servants do have a voice, we’re allowed to have interaction in public discourse, however we now have to be very, very cautious as a result of we don’t know the way the employer goes to react.

“It’s a wonderful line.”

Carr isn’t satisfied particular tips must be carried out to regulate public servants’ feedback about political and social points. She does, nonetheless, say the values and ethics code must be up to date to replicate fashionable expertise.

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“If you happen to put tips, they is perhaps misinterpreted relying on the federal government of the day,” Carr mentioned. “To have a view on a social concern ought to be the best of each Canadian. I don’t suppose that we ought to be certain notably tighter as public servants.”

So, what tips are in place?

Outdoors of the values and ethics code, anticipated behaviours for public servants are set in departmental codes of conduct, mentioned Treasury Board spokesperson Joie Huynh.

“Whereas workers have the best to precise their views, it have to be accomplished in a approach that maintains a secure and respectful office and doesn’t jeopardize their means to be seen to hold out their duties in an neutral method.”

However there’s hardly any readability, even when wanting on the paperwork of their totality.

There’s a Coverage on Service and Digital that states how workers can use digital networks and units—which delves into tasks round IT and cybersecurity—however even that doc fails to say social media.

The federal government’s Guideline on Acceptable Community and Machine Use, in the meantime, does probably the most fulsome job of outlining the suitable use of social media, because it spells out the distinction between skilled and private use of presidency digital networks and units. It additionally notes that adherence to the values and ethics code in addition to departmental codes of conduct are anticipated for “all kinds of use of digital networks, units and Net 2.0 instruments and providers, together with social media.”

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An archived model of the doc explains examples what are inappropriate makes use of of social media, which incorporates something that’s unacceptable or felony in nature like harassment or defamation; violates authorities insurance policies; negatively impacts the efficiency of Authorities of Canada digital networks; or breaches the Responsibility of Loyalty requirement for public servants.

A video on the “Dos and Don’ts of Navigating Social Media as a Public Servant” produced by the Canada Faculty of Public Service states that, whether or not it’s private or skilled, public servants’ social media use is “guided 24/7 by the Values and Ethics Code.”

What’s subsequent?

The brand new Clerk of the Privy Council, John Hannaford, not too long ago introduced the creation of a activity pressure of senior officers to debate values and ethics throughout the public service. It has been reported, nonetheless, that Hannaford isn’t planning to “re-open the code.”

When requested whether or not the code might be up to date, Privy Council Workplace spokesperson Pierre-Alain Bujold mentioned the federal government couldn’t presume what the suggestions of the duty pressure could also be.

“The duty crew’s work might be targeted on fostering a renewed dialog on values and ethics – one of many Clerk’s precedence areas of focus over the subsequent yr – and can assist the efficient administration and renewal of our public service,” Bujold mentioned, “together with how you can greatest equip public servants to reside the Values and Ethics Code within the age of social media.”

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