Employees of Health Canada (HC) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) were recently directed not to express opinions “critical” of the federal government via a department-wide email sent from their shared director general of human resources, in the context of ongoing protests in Ottawa and other Canadian cities against COVID-19 restrictions.
The email directive included prohibition against expression of any views “incompatible” with government vaccine mandates. It read:
This message is also to remind you that Health Canada (HC) and Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) employees, like all public servants, are expected to maintain impartiality and objectivity of the public service.
Regardless of your opinion on these events, as a public servant, you are expected to refrain from expressing opinions on social media or engaging in outside activities that can be seen to impair your ability to perform your duties in an objective and impartial manner. The values described in the Values and Ethics Code, respect for democracy, duty of loyalty, security of information, respect for people, and maintaining the professionalism and reputation of the organization, go beyond our offices and extend to public settings and in public forums. Acceptance of these values and adhere to the expected behaviors is a condition of employment, and a cornerstone in maintaining the public’s trust in our work.
Examples of situations that could give rise to real, apparent, or potential conflict of interest include:
- Being critical of HC, PHAC or the Government of Canada on social media or in your outside activities;
- Social media postings or outside activities that are incompatible with HC or PHAC mandates, and/or with your official duties;
- Social media postings or outside activities that could be seen to be politically partial;
- Using HC or PHAC information that is not publicly available; and
- Using HC or PHAC work hours or resources for your outside activities
While the protests are currently occurring in Ottawa, news outlets from around the world are covering the story. Employees are reminded that they should not be engaging in official interviews with the media without proper authorization from management. If you are approached by the media in your capacity as a HC or PHAC employee, please refer them to the National Media Relations Unit.
Breitbart News observed a physical printout of the cautionary email due to its sources’ fear of reprisal. Health Canada prohibits any sharing of internal communications with outside sources, including forwarding of agency-wide emails to external email addresses.
While prohibition against public political expression is a long-standing stated policy of Canada’s health agencies, it is arbitrarily and selectively applied and enforced.
Breitbart News learned that Health Canada management knew of agency employees publicly expressing left-wing political views — both on social media and by participation in demonstrations — regarding “systemic racism,” “whiteness,” and “white supremacy” during the height of the Black Lives Matter campaign. The employees were not reprimanded.