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Tribune Explains: McGill’s whistleblowing policy

McGill’s Policy on Safe Disclosure allows individuals to confidentially report misconduct or abuse of power at the university without fear of reprisal—a practice generally known as whistleblowing. The policy was created in 2007 and is a last resort for students when other university mechanisms have failed or are unable to address “improper activity.” The McGill Tribune looked into the whistleblowing policy, how it works, and how to use it. 

How does someone use the Policy on Safe Disclosure and what is “improper activity”?

Any member of the McGill community can submit a report if they suspect “improper activity” on campus. The person reporting improper activity is called the “discloser” and the person being accused is called the“respondent.” The policy identifies three types of improper activity: Academic misconduct, which is the “failure to perform academic duties, improper use of confidential academic material,” or “misrepresentation of material facts”; financial misconduct, or the “misappropriation or misuse of funds or property that belong the university”; and research misconduct, or “fabrication, falsification, plagiarism,” and other serious breaches of protocol specific to research being conducted. Reports through the policy are submitted to the secretary-general of McGill.

Reports should include as much information as possible about the respondent’s alleged improper activity. Only university employees, appointees, and volunteers or those serving in positions on boards of affiliated organizations, or bodies created by such a board, are subject to the policy. A student cannot be the target of a report unless they are also part of an aforementioned university body. After a report is submitted to the secretary-general, an investigation is opened.

How is an investigation conducted?

The secretary-general will send the report to an officer that specializes in incidents similar to the one reported. For academic misconduct, the provost oversees investigations; for financial misconduct, it is the executive director of internal audit at McGill; and for research misconduct, it is the research integrity officer. The appropriate officer has 15 working days to determine if the case was reported in good faith, falls within the scope of the policy, and necessitates further investigation. 

When appropriate, an investigator will evaluate the allegations and deliver conclusions within 30 days. Before a final decision is reached, the respondent will be informed of the allegations against them and have 10 working days to respond. None of the information collected is revealed to the general public; however, the involvement of the police or a granting agency can break this high level of confidentiality. 

During an investigation, a respondent has the right to an unpaid advisor to help them navigate the situation. An advisor is an unpaid member of the university who has agreed to help out the respondent. 

When should one submit a report?

A person should only whistleblow after having tried to report an incident through other means or if these other means are not suitable under the circumstances. 

When submitting a report through the policy, one should have reasonable grounds to believe that abuse has occurred. When a report is deemed as not being “in good faith” by the responsible officer, the person filing the report can be subject to disciplinary repercussions. If the respondent is found innocent, they will face no consequences, although the university will take measures to protect the respondent’s privacy and reputation. If the respondent is found guilty, they will be subject to disciplinary action “in accordance with the relevant regulations, policies, or collective agreements.”

How frequently is the policy used?

According to McGill’s most recent report on their safe disclosure policy, it is not widely used. Since 2019, there have been three total reports, one each year. Two of the reports have found the respondent guilty. No one filed a report through the policy for the first five years of its existence. 

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