Saturday, May 28, 2005

Governments hide behind a "veil of secrecy"

Outstanding piece in today's Regina Leader Post (I saw it in the Globe and Mail as well) on access to information laws across the country. I'd link but it's subscriber only.

The bottom line is that access to information laws are used by governments to PREVENT access, not to facilitate. CTFers file hundreds of requests each year. In Saskatchewan and Alberta (and I'm pretty sure everywhere else), government workers stamp "advice to Minister"on pretty much every document they create. Under the Act, anything deemed "advice" cannot be disclosed. So if you are looking for government analysis, say, something as innocuous as the overall impact of the film industry on a provincial economy, you're pretty much of luck because it has The Stamp on it.

The requester's only recourse is to file a complaint with the Information and Privacy Commissioner, which in most provinces is woefully underfunded. In Saskatchewan, the Commissioner's office is a two-person operation. Processing a complaint can take months, and requesters are usually no match for a team of government lawyers.

Government departments try to wait you out, hoping you'll lose interest in the information. In most cases they are successful, but not always. A reporter here in Regina once spent more than a year pursuing a receipt for a night of bureaucratic drinking.

In the country’s first-ever practical test of transparency, 89 reporters from 45 newspapers across Canada — including four from the Leader-Post — visited city halls, police forces, school boards, and federal government offices to test how bureaucrats obey laws enshrining the public’s right to know.

“The public’s right to government information that has impact on our lives is in failing health, and will get worse unless we start fixing it,” said Anne Kothawala, president and CEO of the Canadian Newspaper Association, which launched the audit. This is documentary evidence of something that newspapers have long suspected to be a fact.Reporters found a confusing patchwork of policies across the country, ranging from poor disclosure in provinces such as Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick to a surprising 93 per cent disclosure in Alberta.

Overall, officials handed over records to just one in every three requests made in person. The rest remained locked in government filing cabinets as reporters were told they had to file time-consuming — and often expensive — formal requests under provincial or federal access laws.

1 comment:

Justthinkin said...

Another problem with this is that it is generally no available to the ordinary Joe Blow due to cost.The average ATI request in Alberta cost $1,500.Of course this is just a ploy to keep the public from knowing what is truly going on.Ah Stalin,you taught your minions well!!

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