Information access needs campaigners’ attention by Guelph Mercury Editorial, August 17, 2015
When the doorbell rings and local federal election candidates appear at your door, it would be worth asking them about Canada’s access to information system.
That’s because the recent record on being able to obtain and review public information held federally has been quite awful.
The most recent report to Parliament on the subject by Canada’s information commissioner, Suzanne Legault, asserted our nation’s Access to Information Act structure was a system “in crisis” and in need of modernization.
Now, access to information may not capture your attention or that of the wider public as much as the state of Canada’s economy or job creation or how to address the threat to Canadians posed by terrorism. But being able to access public governmental information is a key aspect of democracy. Governing must be transparent and accountable to the public and access to information legislation should be a key tool to help guarantee these things.
But that has not been the case in Canada.
In June, it was revealed that some government departments had outstanding requests for information made under the act that dated back to 2009. A recent Federal Court of Appeal decision maintained that a proposed 1,110-day extension to provide requested Department of National Defence documents — for records related to the sale of some military assets — was not just unreasonable but should be regarded as a refusal to obey the law.
Complaints over such things as delays in releasing materials, over seemingly unreasonable fees being sought to do so, or over alleged abuse of the exclusion granted to records considered “confidential advice to cabinet” are all too common. [Harper spreading Alberta Foot Rot across Canada] And the information commissioner’s ability to handle these complaints was recently undermined by a 10 per cent budget cut.
As a result, we have a federal access system accused of often violating the letter of the law and perpetually violating the spirit of this key legislation within our democracy.
Legault has provided some compelling ideas for addressing this issue. For example, her latest report, “Striking the Right Balance for Transparency: Recommendations to modernize the Access to Information Act,” has recommended that Parliament extend the act to cover the Prime Minister’s Office; that the legislation be amended to allow for “frivolous and vexatious” requests to be refused; and that the information officer be able to release information.
For candidates aspiring to be members of Parliament, these should be ideas that trigger a host of thoughts.
Democratic reform is a talking point within the federal campaign. Insist that addressing our ailing access to information system and related legislation is one at your front door too, if you get the chance. [Emphasis added]
[Refer also to:
2014 03 31: Devastation Day for Alberta’s Water: The Oil and Gas Industry takes over total control of Alberta’s Fresh Water as “No Duty of Care” Spying AER now a single regulator, 100% funded by industry, takes over Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and Water Act
2013 11 29: Harper’s Office hired three law firms to handle Duffy-Wirght investigation instead of using Juctice Dept lawyers that would be much more econonmical for taxpayers; In his hockey book, Harper thanks now-disgraced chief of staff for help with ethics
In a scathing decision that ends a three-year battle by Rosebud resident Jessica Ernst, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner has ordered a government agency to release thousands of pages of documents that could reveal how scientists concluded the contamination was naturally occurring.
Adjudicator Teresa Cunningham ordered Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures [previously ARC] to refund the entire $4,125 fee charged for processing Ernst’s request because keeping test results, draft reports and even proposed news releases under wraps with no legal basis contravened her right to timely disclosure. “The amount of severing done and the lack of justification for it has resulted in the applicant being deprived of her rights,” Cunningham said. “The public body withheld information for reasons that were not borne out by the records, and charged inflated costs for processing the access request.” …
The commissioner’s order will now force the agency to reveal the results of tests on the wells on which it based its conclusions as well as discussions about drafts of the report between its scientists and Alberta Environment officials. [And secret emails by those officials proving they edited the “independent” report that blamed nature, including changing the conclusions by Dr. Alexander Blyth.] In ruling those records were not advice that could be kept private, Cunningham said e-mails indicated changes in the report appeared to be the result of instructions from the department. …
Rob Semeniuk, spokesman for Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures [previously Alberta Research Council], said the agency will comply with the order to refund the fees and release nearly 6,000 pages of documents. “We thought we were doing the right thing by not supplying the information,” Semeniuk said. … Encana did not respond to a request for comment. [Emphasis added]
2012 04 16: Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner Orders Alberta Innovates (previously ARC) to release baseline testing and water contamination investigation information, including draft reports (on Zimmerman’s, Campbells, Lauridsen, Signer and Ernst reviews)