The Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) has launched the Office of the Whistleblower and published OSC Policy 15-601 Whistleblower Program effective July 15, 2016. Together, these initiatives establish a new whistleblowing program that offers financial awards of up to $5 million for tips on possible violations of Ontario securities law that lead to enforcement action.
The OSC program allows whistleblowers to make anonymous reports to the OSC, and new protections have been enacted for whistleblowers that access the program. In particular, the Securities Act has been amended to add anti-reprisal provisions protecting employees who have sought advice about, expressed an intention to or actually provided information about a possible securities violation to the OSC. In addition, the Act invalidates gag or confidentiality provisions or agreements that would otherwise silence or prevent whistleblowers from participating in an investigation.
The international landscape on the law with respect to whistleblowing is changing dramatically and quickly. The Supreme Court of Canada is the first national high court in the world to recognize and protect the role of whistleblowers, their identity, and immunity, from disclosure and criminal prosecution. In its decision involving the World Bank Group, it addressed the subject of whistleblower immunity in an international case.
The opening paragraph of the Supreme Court Judgment, delivered by Justices Moldaver and Cote, reads as follows:
“Corruption is a significant obstacle to international development. It undermines confidence in public institutions, diverts funds from those who are in great need of financial support, and violates business integrity. Corruption often transcends borders. In order to tackle this global problem, worldwide cooperation is needed. When international financial organizations, such as the appellant World Bank Group, share information gathered from informants across the world with the law enforcement agencies of member states, they help achieve what neither could do on their own”.
On December 10, 2015, SNC-Lavalin announced that it had signed the first-ever administrative agreement with the Government of Canada under the Integrity Regime.
The Integrity Regime, in effect since July 2015, bars companies and their related legal entities from bidding on government contracts if they are charged with or convicted of certain criminal or administrative charges. SNC-Lavalin is currently battling fraud and corruption charges filed in February, 2015 regarding three of its legal entities. This administrative agreement allows it to bid and win government contracts as it signifies the government’s satisfaction with SNC-Lavalin’s ethics and compliance programs.
SNC-Lavalin had to undertake and institute a comprehensive ethics and compliance program. Some of the measures it took include an antitrust and competition policy, a whistleblowing policy, a political contribution policy, appointing compliance officers in every business sector, and obligatory compliance training and certification for all employees.
This is a significant step towards addressing what many companies and legal advisors believe to be a harsh policy. Until now, the Integrity Regime allowed very little discretion to the government to create an alternative to debarment of the accused, pending a judicial decision on criminal charges. While on its face, the Integrity Regime remains rigid, in practice, it now appears that companies facing criminal charges or under investigation may have other options.