Blacklock’s Reporter – MPs Hammer Censor’s Bill
MPs Hammer Censor’s Bill
September 26, 2017 – MPs yesterday denounced amendments to the Access To Information Act granting staff more powers to censor and conceal public records. Cabinet hinted it expected legislators to rewrite the bill.
“They can always try to improve the legislation, by all means, and that is why we have standing committees,” said MP Kevin Lamoureux (Winnipeg North), Government House Leader; “Both of the opposition parties, once again, unite in opposition to moving forward.”
Bill C-58 An Act To Amend The Access To Information Act would allow federal agencies to conceal records if “the request is for such a large number of records or necessitates a search through such a large number of records that acting on the request would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the government institution.” The bill did not define “large” or “unreasonable”.
The bill also permits staff to dismiss any request deemed “vexatious” or “made in bad faith or is otherwise an abuse of the right to make a request”. Unrelated amendments would mandate disclosure of travel and hospitality expenses by legislators, cabinet ministers, the Prime Minister’s Office and federal judges, as well as cabinet briefing notes, and allow the Information Commissioner to order waiver of “trade secrets” or solicitor-client privilege in demanding release of records.
“We know that vexatious requests plug the system up,” said Liberal MP Filomena Tassi (Hamilton West, Ont.); “As someone who has been on the other side of a freedom of information request, I know what is involved in terms of someone making a request. It is time-consuming, and it takes up a lot of energy.”
Conservative and New Democrat MPs have described the bill as badly flawed in offering proactive disclosure of trivial data while sanctioning greater concealment of meaningful records. “Access to information is about giving citizens access to documents that the government does not want to publish,” said New Democrat MP Erin Weir (Regina-Lewvan). “Access to information is about giving citizens access to documents that were not prepared for public consumption.”
Weir described the “bad faith” provision as nebulous and open to abuse. “The bill gives the government new excuses for not divulging information,” said Weir. “That is a problem.”
Conservative MP Bob Benzen (Calgary Heritage) told the Commons in Second Reading debate on the bill that exclusions to disclosure were “highly subjective”: “What bureaucrat anywhere on earth would not consider a requested aimed at uncovering their mistakes or misdeeds as personally vexatious?” said Benzen.
“The bill should reflect the spirit of the principle of the Act, which is as its name suggests – but which the Liberals obviously fail to grasp – access to information,” said Benzen. “It is not ‘restrictions to information’. It seems a simple concept.”
MPs noted yesterday’s debate coincided with the start of Right To Know Week.
By Mark Bourrie
Original Link: https://www.blacklocks.ca/mps-hammer-censors-bill/