“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”
– Albert Einstein
It’s a wonder anyone blows the whistle on wrongdoing; whistleblowers never fare well in the aftermath. Take the case of Alan Cutler, for instance. He was a senior procurement manager at the Ministry of Public Works and Government Services Canada in the mid-1990s when he noticed irregularities in the spending of federal government funds in Quebec. We now know these irregularities as Adscam, or the Sponsorship Scandal. Auditor-general Sheila Fraser found about $100 million in fees and commissions was paid to communications agencies in what now looks like a program which was basically designed to generate commissions for these companies.
And Alan Cutler? In a 2012 article written by journalist Michael Harris, Cutler reveals how he was being watched for insubordination after he blew the whistle. “For three months, they let me rot. Every working day, nothing to do and no one would take my calls. I spent the mornings writing numerals on a pad — 800, 801, 802 … and then crossed them out in the afternoon. I was literally crossing out time. I played out chess openings in my mind. They wanted to nail me for insubordination, so I remained silent. They were watching everything so I didn’t even read a book. They were listening to everything so I never made a personal call. I went home with blazing headaches and ended up on stress medication.”
Cutler was relatively “lucky” (if you can call it that) – many whistleblowers face worse financial, professional and personal losses. Eventually he moved on to another ministry, and was exonerated by the Gomery Commission. On the other hand, Cutler’s boss, Chuck Guite spent 3 and a half years in prison and the scandal helped bring down the federal Liberal government in 2006.
Peter Bryce and Alan Cutler are both recipients of the Golden Whistle Award, presented by Canadians for Accountability and Peace Order and Good Government. Peter Bryce first blew the whistle on health conditions in residential schools in 1907. That’s when he reported that 24% of all children in Indian Residential Schools on the prairies were dying of tuberculosis. He submitted his report to the head of Indian Affairs, Frank Pedley in June 1907. Pedley and his assistant, the infamous Duncan Campbell Scott, did nothing with it while Bryce issued the report to all MPs and church leaders. Eventually it was leaked to the Ottawa Citizen which published the details six months later in November 1907.
That’s when the report’s recommendations were called into question and a campaign to undermine my great-grandfather’s credibility was started by Scott. Eventually, when he took over Pedley’s job in 1913, Duncan Campbell Scott told Peter Bryce that the department no longer needed a public health officer, and there was no need to continue issuing reports which showed how poorly the department was handling the public health of Indigenous people.
Bryce took another shot at it in 1922, after he had retired from the civil service and was no longer bound by confidentiality agreements. In his short book The Story of a National Crime, Bryce recounted his time at Indian Affairs, and blamed the inaction on health issues on Duncan Campbell Scott. Bryce also outlined how he had been treated by the federal government. From the beginning of his tenure in 1904, Bryce had advocated for a ministry of public health. Eventually in 1919 the government called on him to draft legislation for just such a ministry, but it denied Bryce the honour of being the first deputy minister in 1920. Instead, the government retired him in 1921 and put him on a pension worth about ¼ of his annual salary.
The Indian Residential School program devastated the Indigenous community in Canada for well over one hundred years. As well, the effects of the system will linger for many years to come, even though the last residential school was closed in 1996. Just like all whistleblowers, Peter Bryce paid for his revelations financially, professionally and personally. But we as a society owe Peter Bryce, Alan Cutler and all whistleblowers a debt of gratitude, for as American president Dwight D. Eisenhower said “a people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
The documentary film Finding Peter Bryce is currently in post-production but it needs funding to be completed. If you are interested in contributing, you can give through our partners, the Canadian Public Health Association and receive a tax receipt in return. Go to How to donate to the Film to find out more. Click here to see the promotional trailer. If you have other questions, suggestions or thoughts, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org