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The Morality of Whistleblowing

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Employment
Wordcount: 1649 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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The Morality of Whistleblowing

TransCanada Corporation is a company based in Calgary, Alberta that specializes in the building and operation of energy infrastructure in North America. [1] Evan Vokes is a former TransCanada engineer that filed a formal complaint to the National Energy Board of Canada against his employer on May 1st, 2011 [2]. The written complaint, “raised concerns about the competency of some pipeline inspectors and the company’s lack of compliance with welding regulations set by the National Energy Board (NEB), the federal energy industry regulator” [3]. Before filing the written complaint to the NEB, Vokes attempted to solve the problem internally by relaying his concerns to multiple project managers, the vice-president of operations, and the chief executive officer Russ Girling, but felt as though his complaints were being largely ignored by the upper management staff [2]. In October 2012, Vokes publicized his concerns about TransCanada’s non-compliance in a CBC News investigation and eventually went on to testify before the Canadian Senate in 2013 [4][5].  In response to the allegations posed by Vokes, TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard stated, “We take great exception to the claims by Mr. Vokes that we do not take safety and compliance issues seriously” [6]. TransCanada also claimed that most of the concerns raised by Vokes in his complaint were discovered during review process and were addressed accordingly [7]. Evan Vokes was fired from TransCanada on May 8, 2011 [2]. In this essay, the morality of the act of whistleblowing taken by Evan Vokes, will be evaluated under the moral lenses of Kant’s duty ethics and rule utilitarianism.

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Kant’s duty ethics focuses on the idea that an action will be judged as morally right based on the act itself and ignores the consequences of that act [8]. Kant postulates that people make decisions based on maxims, the subjective principles that govern your intentions [8]. Kantian ethics states that an act is morally right if it is performed with good intentions, known as good will [8]. Acting out of good will means acting according to your duty, performing an act because it is determined by the moral law [9]. In Kantian ethics, the fundamental principle of morality is known as the categorial imperative, which is the objective way to test whether your subjective reason for doing something, your maxim, is moral [9]. A maxim can be tested against the categorial imperative through the use of the universalization test, the means-to-an-end test, and the autonomy test. The universalization test imagines a world where your maxim is used and accepted universally. You then must decide whether you can rationally act on your maxim in this new world, and whether you would rationally choose to live in this new world. The means-to-an-end test states that others cannot be treated simply a means to an end. You cannot treat other people as instruments for our own self-interest to pass this test. The final test is the autonomy test, which states that your maxim is treated as a legislating member in the universal kingdom [8]. This test means that your maxim cannot take away the autonomy of another person but must respect them as an individual.

In order to determine whether Evan Vokes acted morally right by whistleblowing through the lens of Kantian ethics, his maxim must be compared to the categorical imperative. According to Vokes, he became a whistleblower because, “Professional engineers have a duty of care to society.” [4], this was his maxim. For the universalization test, it is rational that you could will into law the maxim that people have a duty to care for society. A world where engineers cared for society and made decisions based on that care, would lead to a much safer world for everyone.  For the means-to-an-end test, it must be observed that Vokes attempted to go through interior channels before going public with his concerns. Vokes did not go to the media or NEB to further his career or self-image, but to protect the society he thought could be harmed. He made this choice knowing that it could adversely affect his career, proving that he did not treat the company as a means-to-an-end. For the autonomy test, by going through internal channels Vokes did not violate the autonomy of his superiors by whistleblowing. He gave his superiors the opportunity to address the problem internally before notifying the regulating agency. By passing all three tests, it is concluded that Vokes did act morally by whistleblowing according to Kantian ethics.

 General utilitarianism suggests that an action is morally right if the surplus of the consequences of that action is greater than that of the alternative options. Consequences in utilitarianism are measured in terms of pleasure, well-being, or preference satisfaction and is considered for everyone that is affected [10]. The main idea of rule utilitarianism is that the morality of actions can be determined by whether they are in accordance with a moral rule. Rules are moral if they would produce the more good consequences than other rules if they were universally applied to society [10].

  In order to determine whether Vokes’ whistleblowing was morally right through the lens of rule utilitarianism, the rule of “Professional engineers have a duty of care to society.” [4] must be evaluated. A rule where engineers perform their work with the safety and care of society always in mind, would result in the safest practices possible in all situations. Applying the specific act of whistleblowing to this rule, the prevention of faulty engineering practice that can lead to catastrophic failure would be necessary to care for society. The good consequences that would result from a universal law of professional engineers caring for society would heavily outweigh the bad consequences. Through the lens of rule utilitarianism, the act of whistleblowing by Evan Vokes was morally right. 

 Both Kantian ethics and rule utilitarian ethics are effective tools in analyzing whether an action is morally right. Kantian ethics suggests whether the action is moral because of the action, while rule utilitarian ethics uses the consequences of specific rules to decide morality. Vokes’ whistleblowing was morally right according to Kantian ethics because his maxim of “Professional engineers have a duty of care to society.” [4] and his decision to go through internal channels prior to public announcement passed the categorical imperative tests. Vokes’ whistleblowing was morally right according to rule utilitarianism because a world where professional engineers act with a duty of care to society will lead to more good consequence than bad. In conclusion, Evan Vokes’ whistleblowing was ethical with regards to both Kantian and rule utilitarianism ethics.


[1] “Delivering energy responsibly,” TransCanada – Home. [Online]. Available: https://www.transcanada.com/en/about/. [Accessed: 07-Feb-2019].

[2] “Le conseil des canadiens,” Water | The Council of Canadians. [Online]. Available: https://canadians.org/fr/node/11644. [Accessed: 07-Feb-2019].

[3] “Whistleblower forced investigation of TransCanada Pipelines | CBC News,” CBCnews, 17-Oct-2012. [Online]. Available: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/whistleblower-forced-investigation-of-transcanada-pipelines-1.1146204. [Accessed: 07-Feb-2019].

[4] “TransCanada whistleblower’s complaints validated by NEB | CBC News,” CBCnews, 26-Feb-2014. [Online]. Available: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/transcanada-whistleblower-s-complaints-validated-by-neb-1.2550175. [Accessed: 07-Feb-2019].

[5] J. Dermansky, “Whistleblower Evan Voke’s Evidence Against TransCanada Whitewashed By Regulators,” Truthout, 10-Mar-2014. [Online]. Available: https://truthout.org/articles/whistleblower-evan-vokes-evidence-against-transcanada-whitewashed-by-regulators/. [Accessed: 07-Feb-2019].

[6] L. Peeples, “Big Pipeline Operator’s Business ‘Is Organized Crime,’ Whistleblower Says,” The Huffington Post, 11-Jun-2013. [Online]. Available: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/11/transcanada-whistleblower-pipeline_n_3415701.html. [Accessed: 07-Feb-2019].

[7] M. D. Souza, N. Banerjee, B. Berwyn, B. Berwyn, N. Kusnetz, D. Gearino, D. Gearino, J. Bruggers, G. Gustin, B. Berwyn, G. Gustin, J. H. C. Jr., M. D. Souza, M. D. Souza, and M. D. Souza, “Did TransCanada Try to Discredit a Pipeline Safety Whistleblower?,” InsideClimate News, 03-Sep-2018. [Online]. Available: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/20140501/did-transcanada-try-discredit-pipeline-safety-whistleblower. [Accessed: 07-Feb-2019].

[8] R. Johnson and A. Cureton, “Kant’s Moral Philosophy,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 07-Jul-2016. [Online]. Available: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/. [Accessed: 08-Feb-2019].

[9] E. Westacott, E. Westacott, and Alfred University, “What You Should Know About Kant’s Ethics in a Nutshell,” thoughtco. [Online]. Available: https://www.thoughtco.com/kantian-ethics-moral-philosophy-immanuel-kant-4045398. [Accessed: 08-Feb-2019].

[10] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [Online]. Available: https://www.iep.utm.edu/util-a-r/. [Accessed: 08-Feb-2019].


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