Why whistleblowers are crucial for democracy: Linden MacIntyre (CBC’s The Fifth Estate) essay

Crowd at Occupy VancouverCityHallWatch feels that a proper, formal system to protect whistleblowers is important for every level of government, a precious tool of democracy. Vancouver needs such a system. Below are links and selected points of an essay a few months back on CBC online. The writer, Linden MacIntyre, has been a co-host of CBC Television’s The Fifth Estate since 1990.

Why whistleblowers are crucial for democracy

Technology has simplified and amplified the role
By Linden MacIntyre, CBC News Oct 31, 2013

The conscientious public servant, having agreed verbally with the reporter that the conflict of interest in his department is egregious, has privately explained how it works – and has now nervously consented to make available a document that will authenticate the story. There is a brief encounter in a busy public square. An envelope appears out of one briefcase, disappears into another. A silent whistle has been blown.

That was an actual transaction that occurred on an overcast autumn day in 1977. A crooked mayor lost his job because of it.

It’s a scenario that has played out many times. A provincial cabinet minister once handed me a devastating analysis of a hugely expensive public project. I had it for a weekend, it was about 150 pages long. Trusted friends and I laboriously copied the entire document on a typewriter before I gave it back – and started to report its contents.

Read the full article on CBC.

Below are a few more excerpts of the essay.

  • The revolution in technology has simplified the process and amplified the whistle to a degree that would have been unimaginable even 20 years ago.
  • Technology has changed, but human nature hasn’t and that’s a good thing. The human tendency to be offended by abuse – torture in a secret prison, a lie told under oath to fool the public, squandering of public treasure – remains a vital force in conscientious people.
  • … What we know shapes what we think. What we think determines our behaviour. There will always be clandestine efforts to manage what we think and thus control how we behave as consumers and as citizens. But there is also a fundamental human impulse to resist manipulation and, because secrecy is essential to manipulation and control, there will always be individuals who will rebel against it.
  • The English philosopher Jeremy Bentham put it strongly – but his words have been embraced in principle and often quoted by politicians and jurists while making and interpreting our laws: “In the darkness of secrecy, sinister interest and evil in every shape have full swing.”
  • In another essay more than 200 years ago, Bentham said, “Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government”.
  • Those are words that whistleblowers live by, which makes them auditors of governance and guarantors of our democracy.


Whistleblower systems – City of Portland’s OpenCity Tipline: Does Vancouver need this?
February 9, 2014, CityHallWatch. https://cityhallwatch.wordpress.com/2014/02/09/portland_tipline_whistleblower/

General discussion of whistleblowers, with resources and links.



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