Another of Canada’s Information Commissioners has found that the problem of oral government has taken hold at the highest levels of provincial power.
Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, issued a report yesterday exposing “[a] culture of avoiding the creation of written documentation” in the “offices of the former Minister of Energy and the former Premier.” Cavoukian’s findings follow on the heels of a report issued earlier this year (based on a complaint by FIPA) by B.C. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham, which found evidence of a widespread and growing culture of “oral Government” at even the highest levels of the provincial administration–particularly in the Office of the Premier.
Cavoukian’s remarks make it clear that ‘oral government’ is now a national problem, and to fix it, swift, decisive legislative action is required. If we have any hope of holding government to account, public officials must be required to make and keep records of what they are doing.
In her report Cavoukian calls, like Denham has, for the creation of a legislated ‘duty to document.’ She goes further than Denham, however, in demanding that penalties be levied against those who willfully violate the requirement to keep records.
FIPA has for some time called for the creation of such penalties. It’s our position that there must be consequences for undermining the obligation of governments to keep records. Without the risk of being convicted of legal violations, government officials will continue to treat our quasi-constitutional access laws as guidelines they can ignore with impunity.
Commissioner Cavoukian has given the Ontario government until September to report on its progress toward meeting her recommendations. Unfortunately this urgency has not translated to B.C.: our government responded to Denham’s call for a duty to document simply by saying it might be willing to consider the issue in 2016 as part of a larger review of our provincial FOI law.