Government whistleblower just doing ‘the right thing’

It used to be his cottage, but now Edgar Schmidt calls the three-storey white pine loft his home.

The 60-year-old lawyer relocated to Val-des-Monts, Quebec in January, a month after he was suspended without pay from the Department of Justice for filing a lawsuit against his own employer.

The claim is one experts believe could have wide-ranging ramifications for both the public and whistle-blowing public servants.

Schmidt alleges the department is failing to ensure that laws comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and under that test, the Minister of Justice does not have to inform Parliament of laws likely to be unconstitutional.

The potentially costly practice could result in lawsuits and court challenges which drag for years.

It has also proved expensive for Schmidt, who has racked up legal bills totaling more than $10,000. Although a judge recently ordered the government to cover the legal costs in the federal court case, he is also fighting his suspension from the department without pay.

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“It changed very quickly and dramatically,” said Schmidt, sitting on his maroon striped couch, in his isolated property 30 minutes from downtown Ottawa.

“The day after I filed the claim, I was called at home and told not to show up at work on Monday and that I was suspended without pay.”

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On Thursday, he hopes that will change.

Schmidt and his lawyer are scheduled to meet with department officials to ask them to reverse the decision to boot him from the department and stop paying him, arguing the government has found no cause for wrongdoing on his part. If that fails, he will have another chance to fight the decision and potentially take it to the Public Service Labour Relations Board.

“I had been having this same disagreement with my supervisors over the course of about ten years, and continued doing my work – faithfully and reliably, with good reviews,” said Schmidt.

“So why would that not be possible on an ongoing basis?”

Schmidt maintains he is only doing his ethical duty as a lawyer, by making sure laws comply with the Charter and Bill of Rights. He claims the department’s test would allow some legislation with only a 5 per cent chance of complying with the Charter to pass the vetting process.

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A department spokeswoman said Schmidt is challenging “a longstanding standard” used by the department when reviewing the consistency of government bills with the Bill of Rights and the Charter.

“The Department of Justice believes it is meeting its obligations under section 3 of the Canadian Bill of Rights and section 4.1 of the Department of Justice Act appropriately,” said spokeswoman Carole Saindon.

“As this matter is before the court, we will decline further comment.”

Law professor Jennifer Bond, who teaches immigration and refugee law at the University of Ottawa, says there is proof flawed legislation has been approved, in some cases several times.

Bond pointed to Canada’s human smuggling law as an example of legislation likely to be challenged because of mandatory detention provisions.

“It’s a failure of democracy. It’s clearly a grave concern,” said Bond.

Other Conservative laws that have been struck down by the courts, and then appealed, include mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes, enacted in 2008 as part of the omnibus crime bill.

David Hutton, executive director of Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform (FAIR) which seeks to protect whistleblowers, said Schmidt has been treated “shamefully” by the government.

“They suspended him without cause, without giving him any reason, without an investigation, without giving him a way of redressing whatever he was doing wrong,” said Hutton.

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“It’s par for the course for whistleblowers to be pushed out of the workplace.”

Schmidt, who is also having his pension contributions stopped while suspended, said he hopes the matter will be resolved within the calendar year.

Until then, he spends his days doing research on his court case and spending time with family, friends and supporters – many of whom have helped him through his website

And he is doing it, more often than not, with a smile.

“There is a part of me that just says look, what’s the point of being morose?” said Schmidt.

“I think I’m doing the right thing.”

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