ABCs of ‘behaviour regulation’ for federal librarians and archivists

Published 19/03/2013

Heritage Minister James Moore tells the Commons the government was not consulted on the code~ Photo Fred Chartrand/CP

Heritage Minister James Moore tells the Commons the government was not consulted on the code
~ Photo Fred Chartrand/CP

Staff at Library and Archives Canada are being schooled in “methods of behaviour regulation”as part of the agency’s new code of conduct, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News.

Training sessions, which officials say are being given to all employees at the agency to ensure the controversial code “is known and understood by all,” start with a primer on values and ethics.

“Values help us establish standards, which allow us to choose our behaviour, make decisions, express our needs, and follow our personal path,” says a PowerPoint presentation on the two-hour training sessions.

It says morals and ethics are part of a continuum with “self-regulation” at one end and “heterogulation” at the other.

The presentation about the code, which critics say is having a “chilling effect,” goes on to stress that public servants have a “duty of loyalty” to the government that extends to their personal activities.

The code also describes teaching and attending conferences on personal time as “high risk” activities.

Heritage Minister James Moore, who is responsible for Library and Archives Canada, has been quick to distance the government from the code that has been denounced as a “muzzle” by several critics.

“Library and Archives Canada operates at arm’s length,” Moore said when questioned about the code in the House of Commons on Monday.

“We were not consulted on the code of conduct,” said Moore, who repeatedly told opposition MPs to direct their questions to Daniel Caron, head of the LAC.

While Moore insisted the controversial code is a LAC creation,  agency staff have told Postmedia News the LAC  met with other federal departments when developing the new code.

“Like all federal organizations, LAC’s Code must align with the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector and take into consideration the wider public service environment,” Richard Provencher, the LAC’s senior communications adviser, said by email last week. “While developing our Code, we participated in numerous planning and research meetings with other departments.”

Mark Melanson, the LAC’s senior director general and chief financial officer, took responsibility for the code and the PowerPoint on Tuesday.

“As part of the implementation process for LAC’s Code of Conduct, and as the institution’s Values and Ethics Champion, I was asked to develop the Code and this includes iterative consultative sessions with employees,” Melanson said in an email response to questions. “These are currently underway.”

Melanson defended the rules saying “a code of conduct is a requirement for any organization that follows sound management practices.”

The code says  public servants’ “duty of loyalty” to the government “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.”

But the duty is “not absolute,” the PowerPoint says, noting the employees don’t have to be loyal if the government “is engaged in illegal acts” or “policies jeopardize life, health or safety.“

It says public servants must “use caution when making public comments, expressing personal opinions or taking actions that could potentially damage LAC’s reputation or public confidence in the public service and the Government of Canada.”

The code says that LAC staff, which includes Canada’s leading librarians and archivists, who set foot in classrooms, attend conferences or speak up at public meetings on their own time are engaging in “high risk” activities.

Given the dangers, the code says, the department’s staff must clear such “personal” activities with their managers in advance to ensure there are no conflicts or “other risks to LAC.”

The code is already having a “chilling” effect on federal archivists and librarians, who used to be encouraged to actively engage and interact with groups interested in everything from genealogy to preserving historical documents, says archivist Loryl MacDonald at the University of Toronto.

“It is very disturbing and disconcerting to have included speaking at conferences and teaching as so-called ‘high risk’ activities,” says MacDonald, who is president of the Association of Canadian Archivists, a non-profit group representing some 600 archivists across the country.

Melanson said “LAC’s practice is and has always been to encourage employees to participate in events in accordance with the institution’s business requirements, plans and needs.”

He said the new code of conduct “does not prevent LAC employees from engaging in external activities.  However, for all public servants, freedom of expression must be balanced with their responsibility to remain impartial and effective in their professional duties.“

Melanson said “appropriate adjustments” may be made to the code as a result of the  “consultation sessions” with staff.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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