The importance of investigative journalists – Whistleblower Series #12

November 19, 2021  |  By Dr. Jennifer Fraser

whistleblower community and investigative journalists

If you have not read the other blogs in this series, How I Became an Unlikely Whistlebloweryou can read them here.

The village that a whistleblower needs is not only others who report abuse – and at my son’s school there were at least 12 to 14 students in that one year alone, along with their infuriated and vocal parents. In the whistleblower crisis at Amazon, there were only two courageous employees. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa took on Amazon. They organized against the corporate behemoth to shine a spotlight on climate crisis and their fellow warehouse workers’ rights.

Amazon’s response was to fire them.

As I wrote at the beginning of this blog series, one of my goals was to show people that although the whistleblower path requires a fair bit of suffering, in the long run, it’s worth it. Cunningham expresses exactly this truth when she says that her activism was a “transformative experience.” Even after she was fired, she says:

“My heart is bigger. My imagination of what’s possible when tech workers come together to push one of the largest corporations in the world [is bigger].”

Her big heart and her expanded imagination did not let her be silenced by the employer who fired her, instead, she and Maren Costa filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. They argued that Amazon fired them in retaliation for their activism. They prepared themselves for a lawsuit which is always daunting and impossibly expensive for the employee, but Amazon settled with them and agreed to put up notices throughout their warehouses stating that employees cannot be fired for activism and organizing. Sadly, I could not afford to fight the wealthy private school where our son and many other students were abused, but I can shine a spotlight on child abuse and that is my way to try and make change.

What Emily Cunningham explains in the following statement is why we all need to be whistleblowers when it comes to our broken system. “The legal system is set up to isolate you from other people, because you’re not allowed to talk about certain things,” said Cunningham. “Maren and I weren’t even allowed to talk to each other about our own testimony. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

I was told repeatedly not to speak up or share any information to protect the “integrity of the process” undertaken by the Commissioner for Teacher Regulation.

I had to teach at the school for a year and watch our son attend school knowing the Headmaster had exposed us both. We have an email where the Headmaster writes that he himself informed one of the teachers accused by multiple students of abuse who were the “boys” that had spoken up. Worse, I received six decisions from the Commissioner for Teacher Regulation that I was not allowed to show to any victims or their parents. I was the only one who could see that the Commissioner had done a number of shady manipulations in the decisions. Yes, it was isolating and the law failed to prioritize student safety.

The students who spoke up ended up being isolated and ostracized while the teachers accused of abuse remained on campus in positions of trust, influence, and power as if they had done nothing wrong.

Funnily enough, when investigative reporters asked the Headmaster or the Commissioner for Teacher Regulation to explain themselves, they said “no comment,” but sent in one of the decisions that was heavily redacted. It was so heavily redacted you almost couldn’t read any of it. The investigative journalists obtained copies that weren’t covered up and published them. So while the law in Canada isolates those who dare to speak up and report wrongdoing, the media brings the community together in a transparent way to actually see what’s going on. Thank goodness for the investigative journalists with integrity.

Whistleblower Emily Cunningham has this to say: “it was so satisfying to win against Amazon, especially because winning against Amazon was a win for all workers.”

That’s the truth people want to coverup about being a whistleblower. Your heart gets bigger; your imagination expands; and you achieve a “win” not for yourself but for “all.” In the village that gathers around whistleblowers, you cannot underestimate the importance of investigative journalism whose work is built on transparency and facts.

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