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 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, will return next week.
• 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.
• 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.”
• “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.