A federal government scientist in Ottawa has been put on administrative leave and is under investigation for writing and singing a protest song against Conservative Leader Stephen Harper.
Tony Turner, whose day job involved mapping the flight patterns of migratory birds for Environment Canada, is one of three people responsible for the viral Harperman video.
Turner wrote the tune and lyrics for a songwriting competition last spring. Set to a peppy beat and backed by an ensemble called the Crowd of Well Wishers, the lyrics call on Canadians to ditch the Harper government with a chorus of “Harperman, it’s time for you to go.”
Almost 50,000 hits later on YouTube, the federal public service took notice.
Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), told Yahoo Canada News that Turner was sent home on paid leave and is now under investigation for breaching the public service ethics code.
She said the union would support Turner and called it a highly unusual handling of an administrative leave.
“Usually if an employee is going to be sent home it’s because there’s a high risk if they stay in the workplace and usually it is without pay,” she said. “This is a slightly different handing, sending him home with pay on administrative leave while they conduct their investigation. We believe strongly that there is no case to be had here, which is perhaps why they’re handling it this way. [We wonder] if what they’re really after is simply to intimidate or discourage other public servants from exercising their rights.”
She added that while there are some reasonable restrictions on how public servants can participate in politics, “within those restrictions we’re allowed to participate in a federal election just like any other Canadian citizen and that’s a right upheld by the Supreme Court in 1991.”
Environment Canada spokesman Mark Johnson said in an email that it would be inappropriate to discusses the specifics of any individual case.
“Compliance with the requirements of the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector is a condition of employment for every public servant in the federal public sector, regardless of their level or position,” he wrote.
The ethics code requires that public servants be: “Acting at all times with integrity and in a manner that will bear the closest public scrutiny, an obligation that may not be fully satisfied by simply acting within the law.”
It also requires: “Taking all possible steps to prevent and resolve any real, apparent or potential conflicts of interest between their official responsibilities and their private affairs in favour of the public interest.” And “acting in such a way as to maintain their employer’s trust.”
When contacted Turner declined to be interviewed while under investigation.