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.)
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.