The Letters: Access to Information and Ministers

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The Letters: Access to Information and Ministers

UPDATED June 20, 2017 3:06pmET

The government’s long-awaited reform package for the Access to Information Act arrived yesterday. There were immediate questions about whether the changes lived up to the 2015 Liberal platform — especially surrounding the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet ministers.

The questions continued this afternoon in the House of Commons:

Peter Van Dusen questioned Treasury Board President Scott Brison in October 2016 about applying the Access to Information Act to ministers’ offices. Privacy and the protection of bureaucratic advice to ministers were two issues that would need attention, Brison said:

That interview was part of our 2016 series, “The Letters,” which examined a promise on transparency and Canadians’ access to information about the federal government — and themselves.

WATCH Holly Doan’s report and our full interview with Brison (Oct. 19, 2016):

Here’s what Brison was tasked with in his mandate letter:

TO: Scott Brison, Treasury Board President

FROM: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Work with the Minister of Justice to enhance the openness of government, including leading a review of the Access to Information Act to ensure that Canadians have easier access to their own personal information, that the Information Commissioner is empowered to order government information to be released and that the Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

 

MORE ON THE LETTERS: ACCESS TO INFORMATION

 

In 1983 Parliament passed Canada’s first federal access to information law. Read the current version

They’d studied it for nine years. The new act promised — for a $5 fee — that any citizen could see government records.

Exemptions, though, ran to 13 pages.

After 33 years, cabinet abolished extra billing for records in 2016.

In 2014 Justin Trudeau introduced the only private bill he wrote as an MP – a bill to reform the Access To Information Act.

Sandra Violet Summers, of Sooke B.C., asked the Canada Revenue Agency for tax files on a personal audit. She was told many files were destroyed and could not be found. In fact they were not destroyed. Summers received her files after two years, three requests and a federal lawsuit.

Paul Einarsson’s family business in Calgary sells seismic data to oil and gas companies. Einarsson suspected federal agencies copied his work in breach of the Copyright Act – and sought records to prove it.

Year after year Einarsson filled out access to information forms and paid his $5 fee. Natural Resources Canada demanded he pay $34,500 in additional charges.

In 2016 the federal information commissioner cited the department for excessive billing.

-Andrew Thomson