Canada’s info watchdogs call for strengthening access laws

NB Ombud Marie-France Pelletier (Government photo)

New Brunswick’s Ombud has joined 13 of her colleagues in calling for changes that would strengthen the public’s right to government-held information.

“The culture of public bodies/institutions must be founded on the fundamental principle that information under their control belongs to the people they serve,” says a joint resolution signed this week by federal, provincial and territorial information commissioners and ombuds — the senior officials responsible for handling complaints when people are denied access to government records.

Their resolution says that previous calls for reforming right to information laws have largely failed to produce the changes needed to strengthen the public’s right to know.

“Access to government-held records has become more critical now than ever in an era of misinformation – and disinformation – that exacerbates divisiveness and entrenchment of views and perspectives, undermines confidence in the legitimacy of democratic institutions, and causes greatest harm to our most vulnerable populations,” the joint resolution says.

Among other things, it urges governments to recognize that any legal exclusions and exemptions to the release of information should be “limited and specific.”

Timely reminder

The resolution is a timely reminder that governments have shown little interest in modernizing Canada’s archaic freedom of information laws.

In spite of sweeping promises during the 2015 federal election campaign to make government and its information “open by default,” Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have done little to honour their pledge, while in New Brunswick, the most recent review of the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (RTIPPA) released this year, contains few recommendations for meaningful reform.

Montana Consulting conducted the Workplace Assessment of the Sackville Fire Dept. It made 20 recommendations, but neither its report nor its recommendations have been made public

Here in Tantramar, Councillor Bruce Phinney is expected to introduce a motion on October 10th calling for the release of a $27,000 consultant’s report on the Sackville Fire Department.

Phinney, who voted in favour of conducting a formal Workplace Assessment of Sackville Fire & Rescue, was denied access to the report after he filed an RTIPPA request for it in August.

For earlier coverage of that story, click here.

For a backgrounder on the many flaws in RTIPPA, click here.

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