Transparency groups urge PM Harper to shut Access to Information Act loopholes

In a letter sent today, BC FIPA, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), and Newspapers Canada are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to bring the PMO and Ministers’ offices under the Access to Information Act, after Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault identified three ministerial staff as having interfered with a number of ATI requests.

The letter signed by all three organizations to Prime Minister Harper can be found here.

Commissioner Legault found that three federal ministerial staff had “…inserted themselves in various ways into a process that was designed to be carried out in an objective manner by public servants. Consequently, the rights conferred under the Act were compromised.” However, the Department of Public Works has refused to refer the case to the RCMP, citing past cases that have resulted in no charges being laid.

The way things are now, the people most likely to interfere with an ATI request are people working in offices that are outside the Act, and they aren’t being investigated even if the Commissioner identifies a breach of the law.

This case shows the need for changes to the law, which should be made as part of a fundamental reform of the Access to Information Act.

BC FIPA Responds to Federal Government Consultation on Open Government Partnership

BC FIPA has responded to the Federal Government consultation on the Open Government Partnership commitments with a highly critical examination of the government’s approach.

Lack of transparency is a serious issue in this country, and not just for this government. However, the Government of Canada labours under the most archaic Access to Information law, and has shown no inclination to improve the legislation. This is despite credible critiques from a series of Commissioners, experts, media and civil society groups.

The current OGP commitments are tinkering around the edges of a very serious problem. This government has in the past made credible proposals for reform which it has seen fit to ignore while in office. Until serious proposals for reform are included as commitments to the OGP, the government’s commitment to open government has to be questioned.

Read the full submission.

BC FIPA and BCCLA file joint submission on proposed amendments to FIPPA

BC FIPA and the BCCLA have sent their comments on proposed amendments to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA). In line with BC FIPA’s commitment with transparency, these comments were submitted in lieu of confidential participation in the consultation process. The Ministry of Labour, Citizens’ Services, and Open Government is proposing multiple amendments to FIPPA in preparation for their plan to build a centralized system for storing and collecting information from various departments and ministries involved in the provision of services to citizens.

FIPA and BCCLA are fundamentally in disagreement with most of the amendments included in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Act, 2011, pursuant to which the amendments to the regulation are being considered.

The bulk of these amendments were passed in order to provide enabling legislation for programs that will collect, use and disclose British Columbians’ personal information on a vast and unprecedented scale in the name of providing “citizen-centered services”. In our view, the program as currently envisioned trades citizens’essential privacy rights for administrative efficiency and will move the province closer than any other in Canada to being the “surveillance state” that privacy commissioners across Canada and around the world have warned about.

Read the full submission (pdf).

BC FIPA presents submission to Alberta FOI and Privacy Review

BC FIPA presented its submission to the Alberta Legislative Standing Committee on Health review of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA).

The submission consists of an extensive report prepared by journalist and researcher, Stanley L. Tromp. Based on a comparative analysis of FOI laws around the world it makes 79 recommendations for improvements to the Alberta FOIPPA.

Key recommendations include:

• Amend the Alberta Act to clarify that records created by or in the custody of a service-provider under contract to a public body are under the control of the public body on whose behalf the contractor provides services. As well, prescribe that all entities that perform public functions be covered by the Act.

• Delete Sec. 6 (4), and include ministers’ briefing books under the Act’s scope again.

• Amend the Act to mandate that when a department’s response falls into deemed refusal, it loses the right to collect fees (including application fees and any search, preparation, and photocopying charges).

• Change Sec. 22 from a mandatory exemption to a discretionary one, whereby deliberative records may be released if cabinet consents.

• Eliminate the $25 application free to file a FOIP Act request.

• The Alberta government should not proceed with any data sharing initiatives until a meaningful public consultation process has occurred, and the outcome of that process is an enforceable code of practice for data sharing programs.

• A positive duty to oblige officials to create and maintain records necessary to document their actions and decisions should be incorporated into the FOIP Act or other legislation.

• A harms test should be added to the FOIP Act exemptions for cabinet records, official advice, and legal advice.

• Amend Sec. 13(2) of the Act to require that public bodies provide electronic copies of records to applicants, where the records can reasonably be reproduced in electronic form

Read the full submission (pdf).