The Loyalty Policy at Library and Archives Canada

There’s been something of a fuss in the media in the last couple of days concerning a relatively new, or newly explicit, Code of Conduct at Library and Archives Canada that’s said to create the possibility of “muzzling” librarians or of their being snitched on if too outspoken. (See the story in the National Post and the buzz on Twitter.)

I thought Slaw readers might be interested in the fact that the whole Code of Conduct is available on Scribd. The most often mentioned portion is section 3.2.2 Duty of Loyalty:

3.2.2 Duty of loyalty

Employment in the public service involves certain restrictions. Public servants owe a duty of loyalty to their employer, the Government of Canada. This duty derives from the essential mission of the public service to help the duly elected government, under law, to serve the public interest and implement government policies and ministerial decisions. The duty of loyalty reflects the importance and necessity of having an impartial and effective public service in order to achieve this mission.

As public servants, our duty of loyalty to the Government of Canada and its elected officials extends beyond our workplace to our personal activities. Public servants must therefore use caution when making public comments, expressing personal opinions or taking actions that could potentially damage LAC’s reputation and/or public confidence in the public service and the Government of Canada. They must maintain awareness of their surroundings, their audience and how their words or actions could be interpreted (or misinterpreted).

With the current proliferation of social media, public servants need to pay particular attention to their participation in these forums. For example, in a blog with access limited to certain friends, personal opinions about a new departmental or Government of Canada program intended to be expressed to a limited audience can, through no fault of the public servant, become public and the author identified. The public servant could be subject to disciplinary measures, as the simple act of limiting access to the blog does not negate a public servant’s duty of loyalty to the elected government. Only authorized spokespersons can issue statements or make comments about LAC’s position on a given subject. If you are asked for LAC’s position, you must refer the inquiries, through your manager, to the authorized LAC spokesperson.

The duty of loyalty is not absolute. In assessing and making a determination regarding any particular public criticism, the duty of loyalty must be balanced with other interests, such as the public servant’s freedom of expression. The substance (i.e. the content of the criticism), context (i.e. the frequency of the criticism, the forum or medium in which it is made) and the form (i.e. the manner in which the criticism is expressed, e.g. restrained or vitriolic) are all relevant factors. Situations in which an exceptionis likely to be made to the duty of loyalty include the following:

1. The Government is engaged in illegal acts.
2. Government policies jeopardize life, health or safety.
3. The public servant’s criticism has no impact on his or her ability to perform effectively the duties of a public servant or on the public perception of that ability.


  1. David Collier-Brown

    Surely they owe their loyalty to the Dominion of Canada, instead of to the government of the day?

    The latter suggests a policy once used by the U.S., where the civil service owed their jobs to the elected government, and lost them if the government fell. A new government would appoint its supporters to the civil service, giving rise to the expression “to the victors go the spoils”.


  2. I don’t find the statement of policy excerpted here to be particularly striking. Any employee owes a duty of loyalty to his/her employer. I agree with David C-B that the employer is the Crown not the government of the day, but embarrassing the government of the day is not a good employment strategy regardless.

    Updating the policy to describe how loyalty may affect the use of social media is a good idea, and it is widely advised to employers these days. There is increasing case law on employee discipline cases for statements made on FB or Twitter or in blogs. The advice given here is not offensive in itself.

    The policy reported in the National Post about speaking engagements seems a bit dramatic to me. Certainly if I speak or write at conferences, I disclaim doing so on behalf of the government of Ontario (unless of course that’s what I am expressly there to do, but that’s rare.) That is very common. US government officials do so as well.

    As noted in the article, it will make a difference how the policy is interpreted in practice. One understands how cautious management might be more restrictive than necessary, and public sector union input may be useful in mitigating that. OTOH the suggestion by someone in the article that he would hesitate to talk to his kids’ class about what he does as an archivist strikes me as exaggerated.

  3. I agree that the duty should be to the Crown/Dominion. Given the language of the LAC policy, how differently would the Edgar Schmidt case be playing out right now? Staff at the Legislative Assembly also operate under a code of conduct, but I feel considerably less muzzled than I would under the LAC policy.

  4. From what I saw of the discussion, it was not so much the Duty of Loyalty that had people worried that LAC staff were “muzzled”, it was the section under 4.4 Personal Activities that calls personal engagements such as teaching and speaking at conferences “high risk activities”–

    4.4.2 Teaching, speaking at conferences, and other personal engagements

    On occasion, LAC employees may be asked by third parties to teach or to speak at or be a guest atconferences as a personal activity or part-time employment. Such activities have been identified as highrisk to LAC and to the employee with regard to conflict of interest, conflict of duties and duty of loyalty. Submitting the Confidential Report form to the COI Administrator before accepting such offers will ensureproper assessment under the VECPS and the LAC Code of Conduct, thereby protecting both the employeeand LAC. This form is available in the Values and Ethics Toolkit on the Values and Ethics Portal.An employee may accept such invitations as personal activities if all of the following conditions are met:
    • The subject matter of the activity is not related to the mandate or activities of LAC;
    • The employee is not presented as speaking for or being an expert of LAC or the Governmentof Canada;
    • The third party is not a potential or current supplier to/collaborator with LAC;
    • The third party does not lobby or advocate with LAC;
    • The third party does not receive grants, contributions or other types of funding or paymentsfrom LAC;
    • The employee has discussed it with his or her manager, who has documented confirmation that the activity does not conflict with the employee’s duties at LAC or present other risks to LAC.

    Furthermore, before accepting a payment, a reimbursement of costs or an honorarium for suchactivities, the employee must assess whether the offer poses a risk of real, apparent or potential conflict of interest or impair in any way his or her ability to fulfill professional responsibilities and whether the acceptance of the offer would contravene any other legal, financial or policy requirements. If all the criteria cited above are met, there is no need to submit a Confidential Report form.

    The library field is one where we learn from one another and advance by sharing ideas. To say that someone can’t speak from his or her area of expertise means a loss both to that professional and to the profession as a whole.

  5. Jeffrey de Fourestier

    As a public servant I was required to swear an oath to Her Majesty the Queen as the embodiment of the people of Canada and to serve the people of Canada. As far as I know it is the same oath that members of the CF have to swear.