Ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion changes are good: Collins

The Compass - - OPINION -

Over the last few days, there has been an im­por­tant de­bate in the House of Assembly re­gard­ing Bill 29, an Act to Amend the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion and Pro­tec­tion of Pri­vacy Act. The changes that the provin­cial govern­ment is mak­ing to the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion and Pro­tec­tion of Pri­vacy Act ( ATIPPA) are sound and rea­son­able.

The act was in­tro­duced in 2005 and re­quires that a re­view of the leg­is­la­tion oc­cur within five years and ev­ery five years there­after. The com­ple­tion of this first re­view ful­fils a key piece of the ATIPPA. In ad­di­tion, a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion process helped form the ba­sis of the rec­om­men­da­tions con­tained in the re­view.

Cab­i­net con­fi­dence is vi­tally im­por­tant on many lev­els and ex­empt­ing cab­i­net ma­te­rial is a stan­dard prac­tice across all ju­ris­dic­tions in Canada. Cab­i­net ma­te­ri­als un­der this act will con­tinue to be pro­tected.

Bill 29 en­sures that the au­di­tor gen­eral will con­tinue to re­ceive the in­for­ma­tion he had be­fore. There is ab­so­lutely no change. In ad­di­tion, the au­di­tor gen­eral has full ac­cess to all the fi­nan­cial ex­pen­di­tures of the prov­ince. On a reg­u­lar ba­sis, the provin­cial govern­ment pro­vides fi­nan­cial re­ports to the au­di­tor gen­eral. Ev­ery ex­pen­di­ture, ev­ery dol­lar spent, is sub­ject to au­dit.

We have made pos­i­tive changes to the fee sched­ule which will ben­e­fit ap­pli­cants. Cur­rently the ap­pli­cant is en­ti­tled to re­ceive two hours of free pro­cess­ing time with re­spect to th eir ac­cess re­quests.

The new fee sched­ule will ex­tend the amount of free time from two hours to four hours and the hourly fee rate is con­sis­tent with other ju­ris­dic­tions. In ad­di­tion, the $5 ap­pli­ca­tion fee for ATIPP re­quests has not changed, nor has the abil­ity for pub­lic bod­ies to waive the pay­ment of fees in cer­tain cir­cum­stances.

Amend­ments to ATIPPA will also pro­vide pub­lic bod­ies the abil­ity to dis­re­gard friv­o­lous and vex­a­tious re­quests. Th­ese are re­quests which have no pur­pose or are highly rep­e­ti­tious.

Most straight­for­ward, rea­son­able re­quests can be han­dled in the four hours of free search time. How­ever, friv­o­lous and vex­a­tious re­quests can take a sub­stan­tial amount of time and cost a sig­nif­i­cant amount of money with of­ten no co-op­er­a­tion from the ap­pli­cant to nar­row the scope of their re­quest.

But the point that is be­ing missed is that the pub­lic body must no­tify an ap­pli­cant that the re­quest is re­fused due to it be­ing friv­o­lous and vex­a­tious and a rea­son must be pro­vided for such a re­fusal. The ap­pli­cant also has the right to ap­peal that de­ci­sion with the Of­fice of the In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner or the court. To sim­plify, if a depart­ment de­ter­mines a re­quest is friv­o­lous and vex­a­tious, the ap­pli­cant has ev­ery right to ap­peal and this leg­is­la­tion will pro­vide for that. It should also be noted that the Of­fice of the In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner has the same right to refuse friv­o­lous and vex­a­tious com­plaints.

There has also been mis­in­for­ma­tion that the Of­fice of the In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner has been pre­vented from do­ing its job. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. The com­mis­sioner has broad abil­i­ties to re­view, with lim­ited ex­cep­tion, all records of govern­ment. The com­mis­sioner plays a sig­nif­i­cant and im­por­tant role in the leg­is­la­tion.

Other pos­i­tive ben­e­fits in­clude pro­vid­ing pub­lic bod­ies with more flex­i­bil­ity in dis­clos­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion; pro­vid­ing ad­di­tional pro­tec­tion for peo­ple who want to do busi­ness with the govern­ment of New­found­land and Labrador; ex­tend­ing the time for the Of­fice of the In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner to con­duct re­views; and pro­vid­ing the Of­fice of the In­for­ma­tion and Pri­vacy Com­mis­sioner with the leg­isla­tive au­thor­ity to con­duct pri­vacy com­plaints in order to pro­tect the pri­vacy of in­di­vid­u­als.

ATIPPA must strike a bal­ance be­tween the right of the pub­lic to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion and good ste­ward­ship on the part of the provin­cial govern­ment. Th­ese pro­posed amend­ments are all sound changes to our prov­ince’s ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion leg­is­la­tion. Felix Collins is min­is­ter of jus­tice and at­tor­ney

gen­eral for New­found­land and Labrador.

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