Would you ever be a whistleblower? Part one

By Jennifer Lynch

Law360 Canada (April 21, 2023, 11:16 AM EDT) --
Jennifer Lynch
Financial crimes and fraud have been on the rise in recent years due to the rapid advancement and growth in technology and globalization. According to the ACFE 2022 Report to the Nations, cybercrimes cost businesses approximately $6 trillion globally. Organizations lose approximately five per cent of revenue to fraud. Many people may think that auditors are the ones who discover fraud; however, this is not the case at all.  According to the report, 42 per cent of occupational fraud is discovered by whistleblowers, four per cent by external auditors and 16 per cent by internal auditors.

Whistleblowers play a crucial role in promoting transparency and justice in society and protecting the public. Without them, it is likely that many crimes, especially financial crimes, would go undetected and unpunished.

Why is a whistleblower called a whistleblower in modern history?

Many people wonder who whistleblowers are. Why do we call them whistleblowers? Is it a negative or positive term?

A whistleblower is simply someone who blows a whistle. This term was first created around the end of the 19th century. The term whistleblower was also used in sports referring to the person who blew the whistle during a sports game based on the rules of the sport, administration and judgment of the plays. Shortly after this term was applied in sports events, the term was also used for referring to someone who called attention to wrongdoings and exposed them to the public or authorities. 

However, one would not want to put the term “whistleblower” on his/her resumé due to the negative connotations associated with the label. When searching for synonyms of whistleblower, the terms such as “snitch,” “spy,” “traitor” and “informer” showed up. Many people have negative feelings about the whistleblower label. However, many people also consider whistleblowers as heroes for their courage and bravery against wrongdoing and protecting the public and innocent. Should we have a better term for these heroes other than whistleblowers?

Who are the most famous whistleblowers?

Some of the most famous whistleblowers in modern history include Edward Snowden, who exposed the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program in 2013. Snowden fled to Russia, and now lives in Russia as a Russian citizen.

Other famous whistleblowers are Coleen Rowley, Sherron Watkins and Cynthia Cooper, who were all named as “persons of the year” by Time magazine.

Rowley was a former FBI special agent who testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on some of the endemic problems and events leading up to 9/11.

Watkins was the VP of Enron who exposed the corporate misconduct of the infamous Enron scandal.

Cooper was an accountant at WorldCom who exposed the business’ fraudulent practices, including the cover-up of $3.8 billion in losses through the prestidigitation of phony bookkeeping.

In part two, I will discuss the benefits and risks and challenges faced by whistleblowers, where Canadians can report crimes, and how we can protect ourselves if we are ever in the position of a whistleblower. Stay tuned.

Jennifer Lynch is the founder and principal forensic accountant of Lynch & Associates, Forensic Accountants, practising in the areas of personal injury and wrongful death claims, matrimonial disputes and fraud examinations. She obtained her master of business administration degree through the Schulich School of Business. She holds a chartered professional accountant designation, a certified management accountant designation, a certified fraud examiner designation, a certified forensic investigator designation and a chartered business valuator designation. She is also a qualified expert witness. You can reach her on LinkedIn.  

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, Law360 Canada, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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