ACCESS WATCHDOG MAKES VEXATIOUS REQUEST?

Has the commissioner accidentally handed the government another potential weapon in its fight against openness? (Graphic by Shutterstock.com)

Has the access commissioner accidentally handed the government another potential weapon in its fight against openness? (Graphic by Shutterstock.com)

Canada’s access commissioner Suzanne Legault thinks the federal government should have the power to disregard “frivolous, vexatious or otherwise abusive” record requests. But that power could be dangerously easy to abuse, as was recently demonstrated in Alberta.

Legault made that recommendation in her recent report on modernizing Canada’s decrepit Access to Information Act, the law that allows the public to obtain internal government documents.

But past commissioners have described frivolous or vexatious requesters as rare, with John Reid writing in his 1998/99 annual report, “There are, happily, none in the system” – despite government claims to the contrary.

Similarly, Legault recently told the committee that reviewed Newfoundland and Labrador’s access law that out of the around 9,000 files she’s seen “there may be one case where I would have considered whether that would be frivolous or vexatious.”

The commissioner is away from her office and, as a result, was unable to personally explain why she still recommended government have the power to dismiss such requests, a decision that could be appealed to her office.

Instead, in a response to a series of written questions, a spokesperson stated in an email that power would “ensure more efficient use of limited public resources and protect the access rights of other requesters.” But it could also violate those rights.

That recently happened in Alberta, where the government can disregard frivolous or vexatious requests with the approval of the province’s independent information commissioner – a weaker version of the power Legault has proposed federally.

Last May, Service Alberta, the ministry that administers the government’s records, asked for that approval when an opposition party researcher requested a summary of the living allowances and benefits given to employees over a three-year period.

The ministry claimed the researcher, James Johnson, had submitted “up to five times” more requests than other freedom of information applicants and that he had been using them in a “repetitious and systemic nature that unreasonably interferes with the operations of the public body.”

Johnson countered that he had only filed around 26 requests with Service Alberta over 25 months, adding that it’s his public duty to research the ministry on topics the public is concerned about.

In the end, the commissioner decided there wasn’t enough evidence for his newest request to be disregarded. But that process ended up taking three months, delaying Johnson from obtaining the information he had requested.

I suspect if officials in Ottawa had an even stronger power to disregard record requests, it might be abused in the same way, beaten into the service of secrecy.

After all, since the Access to Information Act came into force over 30 years ago, successive Liberal and Conservative governments have done the same thing to every exception in that law, without respect for public and press opinion.

Of course, Legault isn’t the first commissioner to recommend government should have the power to disregard frivolous or vexatious access requests. For example, John Grace did so in his fiscal 1993/4 annual report, as did Reid in his 2000/01 annual report.

But when those recommendations were made, they were chained to proposals to do away with the $5 fee to file an access to information request. The rationale was that if those proposals were accepted, government would need some means of discouraging trivial requests.

Legault’s recommendation for dealing with such requests doesn’t seem to make a similar linkage. That could make it easier for the Harper administration or its successors to take that piece of advice while ignoring others that would result in more transparency.

Asked about such opportunities for cherry picking, a spokesperson for the commissioner’s office stated Legault’s report – which also proposes eliminating freedom of information charges, needs “for the most part, to be read together.”

But the history of freedom of information in Canada has repeatedly demonstrated that any ambiguity becomes an opportunity for opacity.

The commissioner’s modernization report should have taken that into account by, at a minimum, recommending government seek her permission before disregarding frivolous or vexatious requests – a system similar to the ones used in Alberta, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The commissioner must also ensure this recommendation is not acted on unless government makes freedom of information requests free.

Her report may have been, in the words of its title, attempting to strike the “right balance.” But when the scales of governance in this country are so tipped in favour of secrecy, achieving that balance requires a heavy counterweight of openness – something that doesn’t appear to have happened here.

SQUIBS (FEDERAL)

• The World Justice Project has released a report ranking Canada as the seventh most open country out of 102 examined. But the same survey also puts Canada behind 20 other countries when it comes to our right to information. Those countries include all the other Anglosphere nations that were part of the survey.

• “The Federal Court says the government can no longer charge people fees for the search and processing of electronic government documents covered under access to information legislation,” reports the Ottawa Citizen. “The government has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling and is reviewing [Justice Sean] Harrington’s decision in order to determine the most appropriate next steps, according to a spokesman from the Attorney General’s office. (hat tip: Joshua Sohn)

• The Canadian Press reports, “The genesis of the Harper government’s ‘Strong Proud Free’ slogan that is currently bombarding Canadian television viewers is considered a cabinet confidence and will be sealed from public scrutiny for 20 years.” (hat tip: Dean Beeby)

• The federal government has invoked a clause usually used in terrorism trials to keep information about the prime minister’s family from being made public, according to the National Post.

• The Canadian Press reports lawyer Jack Gemmell filed an access request for legal opinions and memos spelling out why the government believes its anti-terrorism bill is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But, according to the wire service, “Gemmell was disappointed when the Justice Department asked for $4,772.80 in Access to Information fees just to get his written request to the next step.” (hat tip: Althia Raj)

• “Spokesmen for federal whistleblowers are crying foul after the Harper government appointed a judge with a Conservative background to a key panel,” according to CBC News. “Peter Annis, a Federal Court judge, was appointed in late February to the Public Servants Disclosure Protection Tribunal, effective March 3 for a four-year term, serving part-time.”

• The Globe and Mail reports on attempts to block its investigation into the friendly fire death of Sgt. Andrew Doiron.

• The Guelph Mercury predicts information commissioner Suzanne Legault’s call to modernize the Access to Information Act is “unlikely to become a hot public talking point for the federal government as it readies for a re-election bid. But Canadians should press for Legault’s report becoming a catalyst for political action and legislative reform.”

• CBC News reports, “Canada’s pipeline regulator took a ‘big step forward’ on a promise to be more transparent with the release of a map of spills and other incidents. But gaps in the data still exist.” (hat tip: Ian Bron)

• The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has organized an event at Ryerson University in Toronto that will “look at the current challenges to creating, accessing, and sharing information in Canada, and work to create a path forward.” The event will take place on May 8.

• CBC News’s Dean Beeby tweets that he asked for the Treasury Board’s plans to “deal with surges” in the number of access to information requests. “Got blank back, cuz it’s a secret!”

SQUIBS (PROVINCIAL)

• The Calgary Herald reports new Alberta government rules requiring the disclosure of government contracts that aren’t tendered contain an apparent loophole allowing the Tories to “keep details of large-dollar deals secret from taxpayers.”

• As part of its bid to form government, the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta is promising to expand the province’s sunshine list – which discloses the salaries departmental employees earning six-figures – to include government agencies, boards and commissions.

• The Alberta New Democratic Party is promising to “create a public Infrastructure Sunshine List to show how school and hospital projects are prioritized.” The list would include the “standards used to make the decisions, and will identify when and how changes are made to those priorities.”

• The Montreal Gazette reports a series of coming hearings connected to the Charbonneau Commission’s final report will be subject to a blanket publication ban. The commission has “spent more than three years examining corruption and collusion in Quebec’s construction industry.”

• “The B.C. government has made a funding agreement to ensure that 33,000 boxes of important documents will finally be archived,” reports the Times Colonist. “The deal with the Royal British Columbia Museum means court records, executive correspondence and documents about commissions of inquiry can be archived.”

• “The Centre for Law and Democracy has praised Newfoundland and Labrador’s amended Right to Information legislation, saying the province has done ‘a major about-face’ and has taken ‘bold steps’ to improve the law,” according to CBC News.

SQUIBS (LOCAL)

• The Toronto Star reports that Mayor John Tory promised to “maintain a weekly, easily accessible schedule.” But “one year and an election victory later, his staff instead email daily itineraries to the media, which occasionally say only ‘There are no public events scheduled’ and provide no information about the mayor’s activities.”

• The Montreal Gazette reports, “The number of complaints is mounting about a lack of transparency at city hall. Access to public information appears to be controlled, delayed or blocked by the mayor’s office, said Lise Millette, president of the Federation professionnelle des journalistes du Quebec, representing close to 1,800 journalists in the province. She pointed to several complaints in recent weeks from journalists and news groups, particularly from a broad range of weekly newspapers on Montreal Island, about the Coderre administration.”

• Kamloops This Week reports, “Data collected during a review of president Alan Shaver won’t be released to faculty at Thompson Rivers University. Brian Ross, chairman of TRU’s board of governors, said a request by journalism assistant professor Shawn Thompson to release the information has been denied. Ross said Thompson was asking the university to violate an employee’s right to privacy.”

• A London, Ont. councillor is pushing the city to create a lobbyist registry. But, in an interview with the London Free Press, Martin Horak, the head of the University of Western Ontario’s local government program, wondered whether such a registry worthwhile in a city of London’s size.

• The Tribune paraphrases Dalhousie, N.B. Mayor Clem Tremblay as saying the Restigouche Regional Service Commission is not “open enough” because it doesn’t allow for a question period for journalists and the public after the conclusion of its regular monthly meeting.

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

GOVERNMENT PAPER TRAIL GOES COLD

Even a detective can't find records that don't exist (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

Even a detective can’t find records that don’t exist (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

Canada’s information commissioner Suzanne Legault wants new rules that would force federal officials to document their decision-making.

But concerns about their lack of documentation began long before recent investigations revealed some of the highest levels of government in this country have been strangers to the printed word, shielding them from scrutiny.

And it’s likely those concerns will remain long after Legault, who has about two years left in her seven year term, leaves office.

The commissioner’s “duty to document” recommendation is included in her 108-page report on modernizing Canada’s aging Access to Information Act.

In the report, which was released earlier this month, Legault states “no federal statute or regulation” currently includes such a “comprehensive legal duty.”

The commissioner also wants to see penalties for ignoring that duty.

After all, if officials aren’t recording their decision-making, there will be no documentation for the public to request under the Access to Information Act.

Those recommendations follow a 2013 investigation by Ontario’s then information commissioner Ann Cavoukian that found a “verbal” culture within the offices of that province’s former premier and energy minister.

Cavoukian stated it was unclear if records weren’t kept “to increase efficiency or to prevent any of these materials from seeing the light of day and forming the subject of a freedom of information request.”

But the result contributed to a lack of documentation about a controversial and costly government decision to cancel the construction of two gas plants.

Similarly, British Columbia’s information commissioner Elizabeth Denham found the “general practice” within Premier Christy Clark’s office has been “to communicate verbally in person.”

As a result, “email communications usually consist of requests to make telephone calls or meet in person” and staff “do not make substantive communication relating to business matters via email.”

But the tendency for officials to not record their decision-making was also being reported shortly after the Access to Information Act came into effect on July 1, 1983.

Less than a year later, the Globe and Mail paraphrased federal official Don Page as saying the law is causing government employees to “use the telephone more and not put a full record of conversations and meetings on file.”

Speaking to a session of the Canadian Historical Association at the annual meeting of the Learned Societies conference, Page, the deputy director of the Department of External Affairs’s historical division said, “There is no way to document how extensive the changes are but you can sense a different atmosphere.”

That’s why, in 1994, Canada’s second information commissioner John Grace recommended a duty to create records be imposed on the federal government.

“These rules would rebuke the disdainful practice of some officials who discourage the creation and safekeeping of important records in order to avoid the rigours of openness,” Grace wrote in his annual report.

That recommendation was then repeated by his successor John Reid.

And since Legault has been doing the same thing since at least 2013, you can probably guess what happened to those recommendations, like so many others from the commissioner’s office.

Perhaps, though, you may think the accumulated weight of that advice will be enough to finally force our politicians to act.

But what’s more likely is that accumulation has taught Canadian politicians that recommendations from the commissioner carry little weigh with the voting public.

After all, Brian Mulroney, Jean Chretien and Stephen Harper all won re-election despite accusations of opacity.

And that culture of secrecy will continue so long as the oh so Canadian culture of passively accepting such disregard for citizens continues.

SQUIBS (FEDERAL)

• Long-time right to know advocate Ken Rubin writes that information commissioner Suzanne Legault’s recent recommendations for fixing Canada’s broken access law “barely stops the erosion of the public’s right to know and does not open Ottawa to a large changeover in record disclosures.”

• University of Manitoba political studies professor emeritus Paul Thomas takes an opposing position, writing, “There is much to applaud in the commissioner’s rigorous analysis of the weaknesses of the access regime, and her recommendations provide a valuable starting point for debate on how to ensure it serves Canadians better in the future.”

• The Globe and Mail’s editorial board appears to have a similar opinion, describing the commissioner’s report as “excellent.”

• Former Sun Media Ottawa bureau chief David Akin writes about  Canada’s “rotted” freedom of information law, noting that “University of Laval political scientist Anne Marie Gingras published a paper in 2012 in which she reviewed the then-thirty year-old Act and found the Harper government and all of its predecessors – Liberal or PC – have failed to live up to the spirit and, too often, the letter of the Act.”

• The Hill Times reports that, according to Legault, “Journalists are self-censoring their access to information requests to avoid being denied on the grounds of Cabinet confidences.”

• “You’re kidding me.” According to the Canadian Press, that’s how former CIA agent John Kirakou reacted when he heard that Canada’s opposition “doesn’t get to see or scrutinize national-security intelligence files.”

SQUIBS (PROVINCIAL)

• The Telegraph-Journal reports New Brunswick’s government has started publishing the annual inspection reports for the province’s licensed daycares online. But “the new online reports do not contain all of the information included in the paper copies” nor will the government post details from older inspections. The newspaper earlier had to fight the government to release those copies.

• The Telegraph-Journal reports it has “filed several Right to Information requests over the past several months with the goal of building a [province-wide] Sunshine List. Requests for salary disclosure are still outstanding from the Saint John Police Department and the Town of Rothesay. When asked, the City of Saint John provided a list of employees making more than $100,000. The Town of Quispamsis declined to provide names, but offered the titles of employees making more than $100,000. A quick Google search reveals the names of those employees.”

• Prince Edward Island’s Progressive Conservatives have promised to turn the province into an “Open Island” if the opposition party forms government in the upcoming election. That commitment includes promising to publish online all government loans, grands, write-offs and contracts over $1,000. It will also make research and background documents “digitally available so that the public can view the same information being used by government to address issues and make decisions,” among other measures.

• The Calgary Herald reports a Royal Tyrell Museum researcher wasn’t able to speak to the newspaper about his work “because there’s a protocol restricting provincial employees from doing interviews during the Alberta election campaign.” (hat tip: Erika Stark)

• Vice reports the Government of the Northwest Territories isn’t requiring natural gas companies to “disclose the toxic ingredients contained in their tracking fluids and chemical additives.” Instead, those companies can decide for themselves “whether or not they will divulge the chemical makeup of the substances used to drill, fracture the shale bed and extract oil or gas to the surface.”

• The Globe and Mail reports, “British Columbia’s Ministry of Justice says a ruling that ordered its Civil Forfeiture Office to disclose the names of its employees did not properly consider the safety risks and should be discarded.” The agency has “faced questions of fairness and transparency.”

SQUIBS (LOCAL)

• The Mississauga News reports Peel, Ont. regional police wouldn’t reveal the name of a 22-year-old Toronto man who died after being “brutally assaulted with a compressed air horse on March 6 at his Mississauga workplace.” The victim’s family had requested that lack of disclosure. But the newspaper reports it “simply delayed the eventual release of his name, and in the end served no real purpose.”

• Earlier this month, Surrey, B.C.’s mayor refused to speak to News 1130 about a dozen shootings that have taken place in her city, instead referring questions to the RCMP. In a subsequent interview, with the Vancouver radio station, the mayor explained, “I am not the sheriff. I can’t do more than that which we are doing, which is getting those police on the ground, responding to the events, and actually doing some significant preventative work.”

• British Columbia’s information commissioner has found it was “inappropriate” for a city councillor to mention “by name a citizen who had made a number of requests for information to the city. The disclosure led to several references to the requester in the local paper…” (hat tip: Bob Mackin)

• The Toronto Star reports, “Ontario’s privacy commissioner has ruled that the City of Markham needs to reconsider its reasons for keeping documents related to the failed NHL arena project under wraps.” But the city is now asking the commissioner for more time to re-examine those reasons.

• The Telegraph-Journal reports Saint John Coun. Greg Norton is “proposing the city create a Sunshine List, which will detail exactly how much city employees make on an annual basis, and post those documents online for anyone to see.”

• The Windsor Star reports the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corp.’s chief executive officer’s salaries wasn’t on Ontario’s Sunshine List, which discloses the salaries of public employees making more than $100,000 a year. It didn’t have to because the corporation’s $1.9 million in core funding comes from Windsor and Essex County taxpayers rather than the province.

• The Woolwich, Ont. citizen committee “tasked with overseeing cleanup of the township’s polluted water supply is boycotting a secret meeting Thursday on the committee’s future organized by Mayor Sandy Shantz,” according to the Waterloo Record.

• The Toronto Sun reports the number of people asking the city’s local government for access to their own personal records is increasing, while the number of general access requests continues to decrease. According to the newspaper, “The city has been trying to be more proactive in disclosing run-of-the-mill information without people having to pay $5 to file an access to information request.”

• The Montreal Gazette’s Bill Tuerney, the former mayor of Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que., asks, “What can and cannot be shared with the general public? The main rule I remember is that you should be careful with all information that is “nominal.” That is, it has people’s names attached. Everything else should be public. All you can do, if it is time-sensitive, is time its release.”

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

STRIKING THE RIGHT BALANCE?

Should this report's title have a question mark after it? (Graphic by Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada)

Should this report’s title have a question mark after it? (Graphic by Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada)

Do recent record access reforms proposed by Canada’s information commissioner go far enough?

Does an election advertising law in Manitoba go too far?

And why is the Harper administration hiding the cost of the country’s combat missions?

Those are just some of the question raised by stories about freedom of information that made headlines and twitter posts in Canada last week.

My column, which usually accompanies this news roundup, will return next week.

SQUIBS (FEDERAL)

• Last week, information commissioner Suzanne Legault released a 108-page report with her recommendations for fixing Canada’s broken freedom of information legislation. Entitled “Striking the Right Balance,” the report was covered by the Canadian Press, CBC News, The House, Global News, the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen, Maclean’s magazine and iPolitics. It was also endorsed by civil society groups and the Star, as well as becoming a Question Period subject on Tuesday and Wednesday.

• While any improvements to the federal government’s freedom of information law would be welcome, CBC New’s Dean Beeby is concerned about the commissioner’s recommendation to allow government to disregard access requests that are frivolous or vexatious – a decision she would have the power to overturn. Beeby also warned the government could cherry pick Legault’s recommendations. And he wrote that the commissioner doesn’t have the money to fulfill her current duties, despite asking for new powers.

• CBC News reports, “Parliament may have approved a year-long extension to the country’s combat mission in Iraq and Syria, but the Harper government is once again refusing to say how much it will cost taxpayers. Nor will it reveal the estimated pricetag for upcoming involvement in NATO’s reassurance operations in eastern Europe.” (hat tip: Dean Beeby)

• Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s more-sizzle-than-steak proposal to reform the government’s Access to Information Act was defeated on second reading last week. But iPolitics reports that, as a result, Trudeau is planning on making transparency an issue in the coming election.

• Beeby tweets that he received 308 blank pages after asking government for the amount it spent on legal fees defending a political aide who interfered with one of the reporter’s earlier access requests.

SQUIBS (PROVINCIAL)

• Global News reports an attempt by West Coast Environmental Law lawyer Andrew Gage to “get the province to release documents that may shed more light a 2012 mudslide in the Cherryville area” has stalled due to the $780 fee government is charging to process that freedom of information request. The request comes amidst community concerns that a new logging project could lead to another landslide. But the government has said the risk of that happening is very low.

• Manitoba’s “Election Finances Act restricts the government and its agencies from publishing and advertising information about its programs or activities, including on social media, during an election or byelection.”  But, according to the Winnipeg Free Press, as a result of a strict interpretation of that law, the government “has issued only four news releases in the past week: one on cautious driving, two on the spring flood watch, and an announcement the restriction to spread manure on fields had been lifted.”

SQUIBS (LOCAL)

• “The City of Brampton has refused to provide documents sought by the Toronto Star under a freedom of information request regarding a lawyer hired to investigate alleged misconduct by Brampton senior staff.” According to the newspaper, the Ontario city has cited solicitor-client privilege as the reason for denying access. The Star believes those documents could show if the lawyer is “in a conflict of interest because of his former firm’s links to the project he’s investigating.”

• “For the second time in a few short months, staff at [Oshawa, Ont.’s city hall] has tried to discontinue the public report containing the city’s monthly cheque payments.” But the Oshawa Express reports, “For the second time the finance committee has turned them down.”

• Freelancer Bob Mackin tweets there are no records of any correspondence between Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and local tycoon Jimmy Pattison. It was recently announced that Pattison will oversee the funds that will be collected if voters say yes to transit tax for Metro Vancouver.

• Caledon, Ont. councillor Jennifer Innis “believes the Ministry of Transportation may be holding back detailed maps” of a planned highway route that will go through the community.” That’s why, according to the Calendon Enterprise, “Innis plans to submit a Freedom of Information request to the MTO for maps giving specific coordinates of three route alternatives it has for the 400-series highway.”

• Northern Life reports Sudbury, Ont.’s “plan to make public information more readily available to the public took another step forward this week, when city council formally adopted an open government model.”

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

COME SEE THE DICTATORSHIP INHERENT IN THE SYSTEM?

Help! Help! We're being repressed! (Photograph by Python (Monty) Pictures)

Help! Help! We’re being repressed! (Photograph by Python (Monty) Pictures)

Since coming to power, Stephen Harper’s administration has made headlines for undermining government opennesses and accountability, introducing divisive if not outright unpopular laws and ignoring or intimidating critics, including the fourth estate.

On such foundations, dictatorships are built, leading to concerns about the state of our democracy. But how much of that brickwork was actually laid by Harper and how much was there before he even became prime minister?

Two recent books on the Conservative leader appear to have somewhat different answers, with our country’s future dependant how citizens respond to that question.

In Party of One, author Michael Harris recounts a 1997 speech in which a younger Harper essentially described our system of government as a dictatorship run by the Prime Minister of Canada.

For Harris, that description was “inept,” ignoring the “opposition’s role in bringing out public information,” as well as the work of all-party committees in “holding the government to account.” Given such context, many readers might assume the speech was instead simply a foretelling of Harper’s approach to government – an approach Harris appears to frame as anomalous.

Harris didn’t respond to an email I sent requesting comment. But Mark Bourrie, the author of Kill The Messengers, confirmed he thinks the future prime minister’s description of our political system was simply truthful.

In that book*, which was released about three months after Party of One, Bourrie acknowledges the prime minister “harnessed the [political] system to suit his own agenda and personality” and has created a “new, undemocratic way of ruling Canada.”

Yet that system, as well as our society, is suited to being harnessed. After all, according to Bourrie, “Once we install a new regime, usually to punish the last bunch of rogues, most Canadians feel the country is in the hands of the winners until the next election.”

Our political system then turns that feeling into fact, with the biggest winners of them all being the country’s prime ministers who have often worked to fortify and expand their magisterial powers over both the citizenry and its representatives.

Indeed, I would go further and suggest the principal difference between Harper and many of his predecessors may be that he has simply been more likely to use the iron fist of his office and less likely to cover it with a velvet glove.

But it’s Harris’s somewhat decontextualized portrait of Harper – standing mostly alone rather than against a backdrop of societal deference and slow-drip authoritarianism – that understandably appears most often in the news.

After all, in politics as in sports, teams, players, politicians and parties are easier and more appealing to cover (and read about) than the rules of their respective games.

Think about it: just how many Canadians actually think a treatise on the perils of party discipline pairs well with their Cheerios and a cup of coffee at 7:00 in the morning?

The consequence is that citizens may believe that, if Harper is defeated, a Party of One will be replaced by a Government of the Many.

But the best we can probably hope for is a Government of the Few. And, in any case, the rules that have made it, in most cases, completely legal for Harper to do what he has done, will remain – something Canadians might not find out until his successors almost inevitably exploit them.

What’s really needed then isn’t an election but rather a national conversation about what we want from our political system rather than the politicians within it.

Otherwise, our democracy will continue to crumble and, in the process, burying what little say we will stay have in this country between elections.

SQUIBS (FEDERAL)

• On Tuesday, information commissioner Suzanne Legault will table a special report entitled Striking the Right Balance for Transparency – Recommendations to Modernize the Access to Information Act. (hat tip: Dean Beeby and Kirsten Smith)

• Former federal government communications manager Christopher Neal writes that, when the Harper administration came to power,  “I was first baffled, then alarmed, and finally outraged at orders from ‘the centre’ (i.e., the Prime Minister’s Office, or PMO) on how to deal with media questions. Before Harper, most journalists’ queries were routinely referred to the appropriate government official, that is, someone with the expertise to address the topic raised, and an interview would be set up. This practice was outlined in the Government of Canada’s Communications Policy (effectively ignored under Harper), and was seen as a kind of self-evident obligation, consistent with life in a democratic society. This practice was now forbidden.”

• DeSmog Canada’s Carol Linnitt has obtained records showing the office of Canada’s environment minister scuttled her request for an interview with a federal government scientist. Linnitt had wanted to speak with the scientist, Philippe Thomas, about toxins in fur-bearing animals in the oilsands.

• In his submission to the standing committee on public safety and national security, freedom of information researcher Ken Rubin writes the government’s anti-terrorism bill would “extend government secrecy much further.” (hat tip: Canadian Association of Journalists Ottawa Chapter)

• The Canadian Press’s Steve Rennie tweets that he’s finally received response from the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development to an access to information request he filed on Nov. 2, 2012. “There are no full-page exemptions,” Rennie writes. “But [there are] plenty of section 19(1), 21(1)(a)(b) and 23 exemptions throughout.”

• CBC News’s Dean Beeby tweets that he filed an access to information request for briefs prepared for the prime minister about the doubling of Canada’s child fitness tax credit. Five months later, the pages he received were “all blacked out as [cabinet] confidence!”

SQUIBS (PROVINCIAL)

• The Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons reports on a “surreal practice by Alberta RCMP” that “seems to have come into effect, in earnest, this January.” According to the columnist, the Mounties are withholding the names of homicide victims to protect the privacy of their families. “When or if someone is eventually charged with a crime, the name of the victim will come out in court records. But the RCMP won’t release it, without the family’s permission.”

• The Consort Enterprise’s Dave Bruha writes that recently introduced amendments to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act seem “like a huge step backwards for a government trying to promote a new era of openness and accountability. The sketchy legislation, which was quickly given first and second reading last week, will essentially allow local municipal governments to hide public business from residents.”

• In response to a freedom of information request filed by freelancer Bob Mackin, the office of British Columbia’s premier reports it has no records of who was invited to attend the province’s recent throne speech.

• British Columbia’s Private Career Training Institutions Agency had earlier refused to disclose the identity of its legal counsel and payments made to that firm in response to a freedom of information request filed by Mackin. But the province’s information commissioner has ruled against that refusal.

• CTV News reports, “Legal advocates for a group of homeless people in B.C.’s Fraser Valley say they won’t have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to access police documents after a court ruling.” (hat tip: IntegrityBC)

• The Daily Gleaner is backing a call by the leader of New Brunswick’s Green Party to have the government to release the terms of reference for a reference for a commission reviewing the moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in that province.

SQUIBS (LOCAL)

• InfoTel News’s Marshall Jones is asking Okanagan and Kamloops, B.C. readers to “be [the] eyes and ears for your communities for your communities and share what you see or hear about police activities” on two Facebook pages he’s setup. The reason: InfoTel’s police scanner doesn’t pick up the RCMP’s digital radio transmissions. And the RCMP has been unwilling to fill that information gap by giving the more more information about what they are up to. (hat tip: Deborah Jones)

• The Journal reports Queen’s University has denied access to statistics on animal testing practices at the institution, “citing the safety of its staff and researchers as a major concern.” But the student newspaper points out other universities release similar information.

• The Province reports TransLink’s media office was “unable to make someone available” for a story about the Vancouver’s regional transportation authority’s long-delayed smart cards, even though the newspaper provided a four-day window to respond to that request.

• TransLink has turned down Mackin’s request to observe its upcoming board of directors meeting. Mackin notes the authority “has a $1.4 billion-a-year budget half of which is from taxation, but its board meets behind closed doors four times a year after allowing a short time for registered members of the public to ask questions.”

• Portage la Prairie, Man.’s council has introduced a new policy that will see a communications coordinator “act as the initial point of contact when media are looking to interview an elected official.” The city’s local newspaper reports that means the media “would only be able to contact elected officials during city hall office hours. Prior to this policy the media was unrestricted in its access to the mayor and council.”

• Journalist Trudy Beyak writes that British Columbia Mayor Henry Braun is setting a “dangerous precedent” by directing “the public to his private email on his Facebook page where he posts as a politician promoting the City of Abbotsford.”

• SooToday.com reports Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.’s search of a new chief administrative officer “began in blazing openness, but has now retreated squarely behind closed doors.”

• The Toronto Star’s Edward Keenan takes a dim view of a city council motion “that could cut the number of accountability officers in half – combining the auditor-general and Ombudsman into one job, and the Integrity Commissioner and lobbyist registrar into another.”

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

* = Disclosure: I provided Bourrie access to an online copy of my documentary Whipped: the secret world of party discipline, which is mentioned in his book. My name is also mentioned in the acknowledgements section of Kill the Messengers.

PRIVATE INTERESTS SEEK PUBLIC RECORDS

 

Guess who is filing more access requests than the media. (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

Guess who is filing more access requests than the media. (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

FOI FOR ALL? Journalists may make the biggest headlines for using Canada’s access law. But, as is the case in the United States, federal government estimates suggest most of information requests don’t come from those reporters – potentially compromising our right to know.

Between fiscal 1997/98 and 2013/14, the number of requests received by the Canadian government went from 12,206 in fiscal 1997/98 to 59,947 in 2013/14 – a 391.1 percent increase.

But the media’s share of those requests has remained relatively the same.

On average, during that period, 42.2 percent of requests came from business, 11.9 percent came from the media, 8.8 percent came from organizations and 1.3 percent came from academia.

By comparison, in  2013/14, 38.6 percent came from business, 12.3 percent came the media, 4.8 percent came from organizations and 3.2 percent came from academia.

The American government doesn’t compile similar estimates.

But, in that country, a Coalition of Journalists for Open Government analysis of requests filed with 11 cabinet-level departments and six large agencies in Sept. 2005 found that media accounted for just six percent of the total.

At the time, the coalition suggested that was because “many reporters say it takes too longer to get information through FOIA to make it a meaningful tool for news gathering.”

In a recent feature published during Sunshine Week, McClatchy reporters Kevin G. Hall and Kevin Johnson warned a comparative lack of media requests means “information obtained under FOIA may reach the public in a raw, less contextual form…Or it may not reach the public at all, remaining in the hands of the private interests that sought it out.”

And, in Canada, pretty much the same thing can happen – unless our struggling media uses the government’s list of completed access requests to obtain their own copy.

FEELING USED The frustration of dealing with government communications staff has pushed one Vernon, B.C. reporter over the edge…into editorial commentary.

Earlier, I wrote an open letter about how the non-answers those staff give reporters is actually a refusal to “provide the public with information. And if the public doesn’t know what their government is actually doing, it can continue doing things the public wouldn’t want it to do.”

That letter was shared on social media by journalists across the country and resulted in coverage of the issue by CBC Vancouver, CBC Kelowna and, most recently, Halifax’s News 95.7.

Now, in a column entitled “Why I didn’t go to your government press event,” InfoTel News’s Charlotte Helston writes that its communications officials are not quoted in her stories because:

Either they didn’t call me back by deadline, they didn’t call at all, or they sent me a useless email statement that avoided every single one of my questions. I get better and more direct and courteous responses from organizations that don’t pay a designated entity to be available for media calls and to facilitate interviews (i.e. a communications officer).

The one exception to that rule is “when a press event is happening.” But Helston states, “Feeding government PR to the public is not what I signed on for. My job is to ask the tough questions about subjects you don’t buy cake and balloons for.”

The Vernon reporter didn’t respond to an interview request by deadline.

LATER BUT NOT NEVER Earlier, I reported on how British Columbia reporters didn’t pay much attention to a BC NDP proposal to fix the government’s broken freedom of information law – even though it would be in their self-interest to do so.

But Kamloops This Week’s Dale Bass and 24 hours Vancouver both picked up that story a few days later, with Bass cataloguing several reasons why the long shot legislation should be passed.

SQUIBS (FEDERAL)

• “Treasury Board guidelines give bureaucrats free rein to wipe any non-work-related instant messages from their government-issued mobile devices,” the Canadian Press reports. “They are supposed to hold on to texts or PINs that mention government business for record-keeping purposes.” But, according to records obtained via an access to information requests, newer generation BlackBerry devices don’t allow users to forward PIN-to-PIN messages to email accounts for later archiving, leading to suggestions to abandon the use of that communication method altogether.

• A spokeswoman for Treasury Board President Tony Clement has told the Toronto Star that the minister “believes the Canada Revenue Agency should not have deleted any instant messages if they were related to government business.”

• University of Winnipeg criminal justice professor Kevin Walby is in the middle of finalizing an edited volume entitled Access to Information and Social Justice in Canada. Walby, who worked on the volume with Jamie Brownlee, expects it will be published by ARP Books at the end of October.

• CBC News’s Dean Beeby tweets a photograph of the Bank of Canada’s recent communications guide which advises new directors to “be transparent – up to a point.”

• CBC News reports consumer advocate Gábor Lukács has launched a constitutional challenge against the Canadian Transportation Agency, claiming that the regulator’s “failure to disclose evidence received while reviewing passenger complaints is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ open court principle.”

• The Politics of Evidence Working Group has launched a campaign that provides Canadians with letters asking “federal scientists and Ministers about the results of the government’s environmental monitoring and scientific research programs.” The group aims to send out over 1,000 letters by March 27.

• On March 25, Toronto-based think tank Samara will release a “report card that grades key areas of Canada’s democracy.” That report card will include public opinion data that “captures citizens’ perceptions of politics, as well as their political knowledge and behaviour.”

SQUIBS (PROVINCIAL)

• According to the Montreal Gazette, the Quebec government has released a 191-page discussion document that could lead to a potential reform of the province’s freedom of information system. That system is “known for being slow, secretive and over-protective of government.”

• “The commission of inquiry into Quebec’s construction industry received precise allegations of illicit political donations to former premier Pauline Marois’s husband,” reports the Globe and Mail. However, it “never brought them to the public’s attention, according to newly released documents.” (hat tip: Bruce Gillespie)

• CBC News reports the Newfoundland and Labrador government plans to pass new access to information legislation by June 1. That legislation will implement “90 recommendations contained in a comprehensive report presented earlier this month by an independent review committee.” (hat tip: Ian Bron)

• The Vancouver Sun reports the “issue of using personal emails for government business” hasn’t just be controversial for presumed Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton. It’s also “proven problematic for some B.C. MLAs, cabinet ministers and staff in Premier Christy Clark’s office.”

• The Toronto Sun reports it has obtained records showing Pan Am Games officials were “expecting some difficult questions” on the “lavish spending” revealed in “5,000 pages of expense documents” that were released to the media.

OpenNWT founder David Wasyclw writes that the Northwest Territories government “can, and should, take immediate action” on a proposal to create a lobbyist registry.

SQUIBS (LOCAL)

• “The City of Hamilton is refusing to release the surveillance video that shows Councillor Lloyd Ferguson shoving independent journalist Joey Coleman to CHCH news.” The station “requested a copy of the tape under the Freedom of Information Act. Officials cite the ongoing police investigation as the reason for refusing to release the tape.”

• CFAX 1070’s Ian Jessop reports that, earlier this year, he sent in “sent in a number of freedom of information requests to the Municipality of Saanich regarding the spyware put on Richard Atwell’s computer the day after he was sworn-in as mayor.” That spyware monitored keystrokes and captured what was on Atwell’s screen. But the British Columbia municipality has claimed it has no documentation responsive to those requests. (hat tip: IntegrityBC)

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

BC NDP ACCESS REFORM EFFORT TAKES PLACE OFF-CAMERA

Guess what these reporters weren't asking about last week (Photograph by Damien Gillis)

Guess what some of these reporters weren’t asking about last week. (Photograph by Damien Gillis)

DO YOURSELF A FAVOUR Greater access to government records is in the self-interest of journalists. But, in British Columbia, that self-interest resulted in few, if any, stories about a recent opposition proposal to reform the province’s freedom of information law.

Like its federal cousin, that law is in urgent need of reform, with reporters finding it evermore difficult to obtain government records and, by extension, hold politicians and public institutions to account.

So it should have been welcome news last week when the BC NDP introduced a bill that would require government to do everything from documents its decisions to routinely disclose executive calendars.

As an example of why those reforms are needed, Doug Routley – the MLA responsible for that legislation – told me one of his colleagues recently filed a request for information about government consultations to improve Highway 16, the so-called Highway of Tears.

But that request turned up no records, something Routley said, “crashes the border of ridiculousness.”

Despite that ridiculousness, as I’ve written before, there’s almost no chance of his bill becoming law since the BC Liberals control the legislature.

And, even if the New Democrats were to wrest away that control in 2017 and pass similar legislation, its likely their government would eventually become just as secretive as the one they replaced.

Such is the nature of Canadian politics.

Still, there’s value in journalists covering the opposition’s proposed reforms because such stories help inform the public about the flaws in British Columbia’s freedom of information system.

But a search of the Canadian Newsstand database and Google News turns up no stories about those reforms.

By comparison, when federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced a much weaker freedom of information initiative, he nabbed at least five stories about that proposal – including an editorial from the Globe and Mail endorsing it.

Asked about that apparent lack of coverage Routley deadpanned, “How nice of you to point that out,” theorizing reporters might not have had time last week to cover his bill.

VIRTUALLY MEETING In practice and in law, Canadian politicians and their staffers often appear to want to hide their communications from the public.

Indeed, in a tweet earlier this month, Scott Reid – who served as Prime Minister Paul Martin’s communications director – stated, “Everyone at every level of government, in every party uses private email,” reflecting a natural desire to “discuss stuff bluntly.”

But the councillors of a small Ontario cottage country town may be trying to restrain that desire.

Under provincial law, council meetings must, except under limited circumstances, be open to the public.

And now Leeds and the Thousand Islands has passed a bylaw stating those meetings “may include email exchanges” that are “addressed to all members of council” and “contain factual information germane to the business of the Municipality.”

In an interview, Mayor Joe Baptista said that, as a result, “all of our township emails and anything to do with township business that we are discussing” will be “compiled and made available to the public prior to council meeting.”

That news was first reported by the Gananoque Reporter.

Baptista said the details of how that compilation happens are still being worked out.

But he said he wants to see it “as automated as possible because I don’t want it to become an administration nightmare. And, from our perspective, if your corresponding with staff regarding council issues or if your corresponding amongst each other you don’t get to choose” which emails become public.

Baptista said the hasn’t heard of any other municipalities doing the same thing, although a number of mayors have already phoned asking about the bylaw.

“In some ways we’re the guinea pigs,” he added. “We’re going to learn, we’re going to put this into play and we’re going to see how it works.”

SQUIBS (FEDERAL)

• CBC News reports that, according to internal records, senior staff were “mystified” by Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s “dire warning” about why government’s can release electronic versions of certain kinds of data in response to access requests.

• A Canadian Press access to information request for a briefing note about a proposed marketing agency for raspberries yielded nothing more than an almost completely censored page.

• The Toronto Star’s Alex Boutilier tweets that, in response to a freedom of information filed with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, he received a “copy of the releasable material” – an empty envelope.

• The Canadian Press’s Steve Rennie tweets that he just got back an access to information request response “about how to deal with surges in access requests. But their advice is (surprise) blanked out.”

• The Tyee reports on a dearth of information about what half of Canada’s temporary foreign workers actually do.

• The Huffington Post reports on an “ongoing tug-of-war between realtors and customers who want to be able to access in-depth real estate data online, and the country’s industry associations, who want to maintain their monopoly on that data.”

• “The Canadian Forces has retreated in its attempt to put a cloak of secrecy over its response to concerns raised by a special commission looking into the suicide of an Afghan veteran,” according to the Ottawa Citizen.

SQUIBS (PROVINCIAL)

• “Amazing.” That was the reaction from James McLeod, a political reporter with the Telegram, when Newfoundland and Labrador’s finance department returned the $5 application fee he had paid to file an access request. The province’s government recently announced it would be implementing the recommendations of an independent review of its freedom of information legislation, which include eliminating that fee.

• The Tyee reports that, thanks to a ruling by an adjudicator working for British Columbia’s information commissioner, the public may soon get a chance to see the BC Lions’ contract to play at BC Place Stadium.

According to InfoTel News, a survey of journalists by British Columbia’s Interior Health Authority found just 36.2 percent of respondent were satisfied with using spokespeople for comment, while just 40 percent would accept a written statement rather than wait for a live interview.

• The Chronicle Herald reports Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has resisted calls by that province’s freedom of information and protection of privacy review officer to increase the independence of her post. And now the newspaper has learned McNeil’s government is considering merging her office with that of the province’s ombudsman.

• The Montreal Gazette reports a new position at Quebec’s health establishments – which combines the roles of a human resources, legal affairs and communications director – could put transparency at risk. That’s because, according to a spokesperson for one Montreal hospital, “public-relations staff often struggle to get information out to the public over the objections of the legal affairs department.”

• The Toronto Star reports, “A privacy analyst at Trillium Health Centre is being investigated by Ontario’s privacy commissioner and his own hospital over allegations he tried to block a probe by the provincial watchdog into a privacy breach.”

SQUIBS (LOCAL)

• CBC News paraphrases Harout Chitilian, the vice-president of Montreal’s executive committee, as saying, “Montreal is looking to change the rules and regulations in order to release more of the city’s data.” But “In some cases, that could mean changing laws and taking away privacy safeguards.”

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.

BLUNT TALK ON PUBLIC OFFICIALS USING PRIVATE EMAIL

Should the public really be able to look inside this metaphorical envelope? (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

Should the public really be able to look inside this metaphorical envelope? (Photograph by Shutterstock.com)

Is using private email standard operating procedure for those working in government?

Why is British Columbia’s government removing penalties for document destruction?

And how come journalists in Vancouver weren’t allowed to broadcast pictures of the room where a telephone town hall was being run?

Those are just some of the many questions raised by stories about freedom of information that made headlines and twitter posts in Canada last week.

My column, which usually accompanies this news roundup, has been delayed due to teaching commitments. It’ll return next week.

SQUIBS (FEDERAL)

Scott Reid, who served as a senior advisor and communications director to Prime Minister Paul Martin, tweets this observation about how public officials communicate: “Everyone at every level of government, in every party uses private email. It’s SOP. Reflects nat desire to discuss stuff bluntly.” (hat tip: Merv Adey)

• CBC News reports, “Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s dire warning about why the government can’t release certain electronic data under access to information requests seems to have left his senior staff mystified, newly disclosed documents show.”

• “A New Democrat MP is asking the federal information watchdog to investigate a former Conservative ministerial staffer’s systematic deletion of emails,” according to the Canadian Press.

• The Canadian Press reports, “The Federal Court of Appeal has sent a stern message to government institutions: you can’t just make up any old deadline for responding to requests under the Access to Information Act.” (hat tip: Dean Beeby)

• Everyone “has called for more transparency” in the Canadian Judicial Council’s proceedings. But, according to Canadian Lawyer magazine, “no one can agree on what that means, especially as the CJC clings to extreme confidentiality at the early stages of investigations.”

• The Military Police Complaints Commission “has gone to court to challenge the secrecy of Canada’s Defence Department and its refusal to make public its response to the investigation into a solider’s suicide,” according to the Toronto Star.

• University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist writes that “the privacy commissioner of Canada set out to audit the RCMP in the hope of uncovering the details behind” warrentless requests for telecom subscriber information. “What it encountered instead was inaccurate data and an effort to downplay” the commissioner’s public reporting of those problems.

• “The bad news for any Canadian politician inspired by Hillary Clinton to set up a do-it-yourself email system is that it could potentially involve the Mounties, handcuffs, and a two-year sojourn in the slammer,” according to the Canadian Press.

• National Post’s John Ivison writes that Canada’s parliamentary system is “stacked against any meaningful review of spending, at least until the Public Accounts of Canada are tabled, 200 days after the fiscal year they cover.

• The Winnipeg Free Press’s Mary Agnes Welch makes an argument against bureaucratese, writing, “If we citizens don’t demand clear, simple, precise language from our elected officials, then it’s our own fault if they continue to snow us with words designed to thwart our right to know.”

• The Lobby Monitor’s Alyssa O’Dell had this reaction after filing a few freedom of information requests with the European Union via email: “15 day response deadline. Madness?!” Canada’s own Access to Information Law gives the federal government 30 days to respond. (hat tip: Jeremy Nuttall)

• The Globe and Mail has become the first Canadian media organization to use Secure Drop, a “channel for anonymous and encrypted Internet communications that can link potential sources withy investigative journalists.”

• The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization has published its first report on “Internet-related issues of access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, privacy, and the ethical dimensions of the Information Society.” (hat tip: Kirsten Smith)

• Ottawa-based investigative researcher Ken Rubin writes that users of Canada’s Access to Information Act have “come up against the brutal limitations of what is provided [under that legislation] and what is not.”

SQUIBS (PROVINCIAL)

• The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association reports that British Columbia’s government has introduced a law that will remove existing penalties for destroying government records.

• CBC News reports, “Major changes are coming to access to information laws in Newfoundland and Labrador following the much-anticipated release Tuesday morning of a report prepared by an independent commission.”

• The Toronto Star reports, “A provincial panel has recommended sweeping changes to controversial legislation that allows Ontario hospitals to investigate critical incidents of patient harm and death in secret.”

• Northwest Territories MLAs have passed a motion to “investigate the implementation of a lobbyist registry that would be publicly accessible online,” according to the Northern Journal.

SQUIBS (LOCAL)

According to the StarPhoenix, a report into a Saskatoon city hall leak reveals “bizarre levels of secrecy that hint at how much our municipal government is shielding from citizens.”

• Global News reports a public telephone town hall on Vancouver’s upcoming transit plebiscite was “not as public as some would like. The number to dial in was not immediately available and while journalists were allowed to record an audio feed of the proceedings, they were not allowed to broadcast pictures of the room.” (hat tip: IntegrityBC)

• Freelancer Bob Mackin tweets that a spokesperson was copied on freedom of information request correspondence he received from the City of Vancouver. But, in an email, the spokesperson – Marcella Munro, who works with the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation – stated, “I have nothing to do with FOIs and I have no idea why it was sent to me. As far as I know it was a mistake by the office in Vancouver.”

• The Globe and Mail paraphrases Chris Bejnar, the co-chair of a Brampton, Ont. watchdog group, as saying “he has been disturbed by lack of openness he’s seen between city staff and the public. When filing freedom of information requests to find out the square footage of a building in the downtown redevelopment plan, or how the city had calculated the cost per square foot, he was rebuffed by staff and eventually got the information only after complaining to the province’s privacy commissioner.”

• Gerard Daly, a board member for New Brunswick’s Regional Services Commission 11 “wants the organization to be more transparent and forthcoming with public information.” The Daily Gleaner paraphrases Daly as saying “a good example of information not being made available centres around a hike that occurred in the rate of the tipping fee – the price paid when delivering refuse to the landfill site. Daly said RSC 11 staff recommended the fee be increased by $10 but, at the end of the day, it was raised by $1.50. No one on the board was prepared to approve it, he said. But none of the circumstances that led to the matter being voted down was ever made public.”

• The Telegraph-Journal reports Saint John’s councillors have “unanimously approved” the city’s first open data policy. During that process, they “also gave a green light to a pilot project that will see city staff start to post data online related to six key categories: public safety, energy and utilities, recreation, financial information, municipal planning and economic development.”

• CBC News reports Greater Sudbury, Ont. “has joined a growing number of governments to launch an open data program…The first release in Sudbury is three data sets on the city transit system, including the real-time movements of buses.”

• City councillors in both Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, B.C. are “looking for engaged citizens to help jump start a conversation on making municipal government more accessible and transparent.”

• The Sachem reports Haldimand County, Ont. has “opened an online Open Data Repository” that will provide “residents and those beyond our borders with the opportunity to view maps and other geographic data.”

Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.