Whistleblower suspended after leaking employment insurance rejection ‘quotas’

Sylvie Therrien says she was ordered to deny people EI benefits

Congratulations Canada, we have our own Edward Snowden.

Well, let's maybe not go that far. But a federal employee is facing sanctions after leaking some documents outlining pretty suspect actions by a Canadian agency.

This time, however, the issue is not public privacy but employment insurance.

Sylvie Therrien told CBC News that she was suspended without pay after leaking documents related to "quotas" issued to investigators who oversee employment insurance benefits.

Therrien claimed she and her co-workers were given a target to recover nearly $500,000 in claims every year.

"It just was against my values, harassing claimants… trying to penalize them in order to save money for the government. We had quotas to meet every month," she told the network.

The issue came to a head earlier this year, when leaked documents showed investigators were told to find $485,000 in savings each year – suggesting that claims were being denied, regardless of value, in order to reach a target.

[ Related: EI numbers down 2.4% in May, continuing downward trend ]

Consider that: Those in legitimate need of government assistance being denied simply because of arbitrary commands being issued from on high, by those looking to save money.

The idea that police forces would implement ticketing quotas is enough to rile moral outrage. Should this be any different?

Of course, the Conservative government has described the quotas as "performance objectives" or targets. In February, then-Human Resource Minister Diane Finley denied setting dollar quotas.

"Service Canada has confirmed that it does not set quotas that result in negative consequences for employees who do not meet them. What there are, in fact, are performance objectives that help to protect benefits meant for unemployed people from fraudsters," she told the House of Commons.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair responded by accusing her party of sending "secret EI reform police" to the homes of honest unemployed Canadians.

Take a look at a couple recent headlines related to employment insurance:

[ More Brew: Supreme Court rules guilt by association not enough to deny refugee status ]

The possibility that the government is throwing people off EI to hit quotas would do a lot to discredit the seemingly good news from that top headline. EI numbers go down when you stop paying it out, but that doesn't necessarily mean employment numbers are improving.

And consider that last headline. Prince Edward Island has seen an 18 per cent cut to residents receiving EI, compared to the national average of four per cent.

P.E.I. is considered a bit of a Liberal stronghold. Of their four Members of Parliament, three are Grits and the fourth swung to the Tories in 2008.

Now, if the government is ordering employment insurance investigators to hit rejection quotas, what is stopping it from further targeting opposition-rich areas? Just don't expect P.E.I. to get any government-funded gazebos any time soon.

Therrien said she leaked the documents to clear her conscience. It also cleared her out of a job. Suspended without pay until who knows when.

"I was thinking just about those people… I was going to send them and their children into the street… and now here I am on the street," she said.

One wonders if Human Resources Canada has a quota of conscientious employees to suspend each year.

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