SIZE MATTERS? Can a government be too small to need a lobbyist registry? Elaine Taylor, Yukon’s deputy premier, thinks so. But the deputy mayor of a much smaller jurisdiction in Ontario has a different opinion.
The Whitehorse Star reports Taylor made that observation in response to the NDP’s call for a law that would force anyone paid to influence Yukon politicians to disclose their activities. Speaking in the legislature, the deputy premier said, “This is a relatively small jurisdiction. We do not see the need in resolving issues such as this through legislation, regulation.”
Earlier this month, Saunderson recommended his town should look at creating a registry, a proposal that has been discussed before, according to the Collingwood Connection.
“[This is about] making sure this community, and this council in particular, is constantly on the lookout for ways to improve our transparency and accountability,” he told the newspaper.
THROWING A BOOK AT THEM Canadian news outlets can seem shy about calling for greater freedom of information in this country – especially when measured against some of their American counterparts.
An example: earlier this month, Blytheville Courier News, which has a circulation of just over 4,000, sent freshmen elected officials in Arkansas a copy of the state’s freedom of information handbook.
The reason: according to the newspaper’s managing editor Mark Brasfield, “We feel it’s important to educate elected officials what the law requires regarding public records and public meetings.”
That’s because “many violators just simply do not know the law, which is not just a tool for members of the media, but anyone who wants a copy of a public record or is interested in attending a particular meeting.”
By comparison, three similarly-sized newspapers included in the Canadian Newsstand database – the Cranbrook Daily Townsman, the Nanaimo News Bulletin and the Sherbrooke Record – appear to have been much quieter about defending their readers’ right to know.
I searched those newspapers for articles with the words “access to information” and “freedom of information” in them over the past year. That search turned up just two opinion pieces pushing for more openness in government – an editorial from the Nanaimo News Bulletin and an op-ed that was published by the Sherbrooke Record but penned by the Quebec Professional Federation of Journalists.
• Medicine Hat News reporter Peggy Revell juxtaposes the terrorist attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo with the federal government’s clampdown on information access, writing, “There’s more ways to muzzle freedom of speech than by the barrel of the gun, to end freedom not with a bang, but a whisper.”
• CBC News reports a Federal Court judge has ruled that records “filed by oil companies on safety-related incidents in the Newfoundland offshore can be kept off-limits from the public.”
• University of King’s College journalism professor Dean Cobb celebrates the 20th anniversary of a Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled bans on publishing evidence presented in court “should be the exception, not the rule.”
• “A New Democrat MP is accusing Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander of thwarting her efforts to learn more about how the government deals with visa applications,” according to CBC News. (hat tip: Ian Bron)
• The Shareholder Association for Research and Education and Ryerson University’s Institute for the Study of Corporate Social Responsibility are hosting a panel discussion on political spending as a corporate issue. (hat tip: Samara Canada)
• “All Freedom of Information requests submitted by journalists, opposition politicians and anyone who might publicly discuss their findings are singled out for special treatment by the province’s transportation ministry,” according to records obtained by the Toronto Sun.
• The Toronto Star reports a legislative loophole has allowed Ontario hospitals to “handle [privacy] violations internally” rather than reporting them to the province’s information and privacy commissioner.
• A National Post investigation has found that just a “tiny fraction of [medical errors] are publicly acknowledged and usually only in the form of antiseptic statistics. For most serious gaffes, not even the sparest of details is revealed, making the vast problem all but invisible.”
• According to the Calgary Herald, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice has told reporters his government will be expanding its sunshine list to include high salaries at post-secondary institutions, school boards and Alberta Health Services.
• The Edmonton Journal reports, “Alberta’s Wildrose opposition has asked the Information and Privacy Commissioner to investigate after Alberta Justice revealed Wednesday the department sought to cancel outstanding access-to-information requests to address a severe backlog.”
• Ryerson’s new Privacy and Big Data Institute is holding an “inaugural seminar on Privacy by Design” on January 22. The institute is headed by former Ontario information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian.
• New Maryland Mayor Judy Wilson-Shee has told the Daily Gleaner the New Brunswick government should compensate local communities for the cost of responding to freedom of information requests. Wilson-Shee made that suggestion after an unnamed law firm filed a request for information that has involved village staff reading 2,000 pages, as well as a $3,000 legal bill. There are no fees associated with such requests in New Brunswick.
• The Edmonton Journal’s Paula Simons reports the city’s police force kept the homicide of 35-year-old aboriginal woman Freda Goodrunning a secret for four months, only telling the public about it at an “odd pre-Christmas news conference.” According to Simons, police have suggested that secrecy “somehow helped them.” But the columnist writes, “We don’t need more secrecy about the deaths of aboriginal women. We need more honesty. And more answers.”
• The Winnipeg Free Press reports, “The City of Winnipeg is rethinking its refusal to divulge part of the rationale for pursuing the $210-million Winnipeg police headquarters project.” The province’s ombudsman had earlier criticized that refusal.
• The Alberni Valley Times reports Port Alberni “could be releasing more information about closed-door meetings” if the British Columbia city’s councillors “approve a change to in-camera meetings.” A discussion about that change was scheduled to take place on January 12 but the minutes of that meeting have yet to be published.
• The Powell River Regional District’s board of directors is reviewing “what records are publicly available and what records require special written requests for release.” Audits and auditor reports are among the records that are currently only available via a freedom of information request, something that – according to the local newspaper – appeared to surprise regional district director Russell Brewer.
Have a news tip about about the state of democracy, openness and accountability in Canada? You can email me at this address.