Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Normalizing secrecy

I haven't commented yet on the story surrounding Tom Mulcair's request for basic investigation into back-channel information between the Trudeau government and the Supreme Court of Canada - which seems best classified as a minor but reasonable request which has been blown out of proportion.

But I'll take a moment to point out the jaw-dropping response from the Libs, who are apparently demanding government secrecy far beyond that ever publicly defended by even the Harper Cons:
This motion calls for the federal government to release archived documents related to the constitutional negotiations which led to the patriation of the Constitution in 1982.

However, the federal government has already stated that it does not intend to give policy directives to civil servants responsible for the application of the Access to Information Act.

We would like the government to hold firm in this respect. The Conservatives already have a tendency to politicize everything; there is no need to encourage them in this bad habit. The last thing we should do is politicize the application of the Access to Information Act.

We believe this act should be strengthened; however, this should be done as part of a global legislative review and not in response to one specific request for information.
So what's wrong with that response? Well, let's take a look at what the Access to Information Act itself is intended to do in making information available (emphasis added):
2. (1) The purpose of this Act is to extend the present laws of Canada to provide a right of access to information in records under the control of a government institution in accordance with the principles that government information should be available to the public, that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific and that decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government.
(2) This Act is intended to complement and not replace existing procedures for access to government information and is not intended to limit in any way access to the type of government information that is normally available to the general public.
In other words, the point of the Access to Information Act isn't to serve as the lone means by which government information can be made public, or to require that access-to-information coordinators vet every single piece of paper distributed by a government department. Instead, it creates a right to information upon request - without affecting the authority of a government to release information through other channels.

And I don't think anybody has seriously proposed changing the law in that respect, particularly given the obvious dangers of presuming that all government information must be withheld from the public unless it's specifically requested.

But in their desperation to find a wedge against the NDP, Dion and the Libs are pretending that it's somehow wrongful for a government to so much as consider whether information should be released outside of the formal process under the Access to Information Act.

Needless to say, we shouldn't buy Dion's implicit argument that government accountability should exist only through access-to-information requests. And the fact that Dion has given the Cons leverage to make secrecy the norm - particularly in reliance on a statute based on the contrary principle - should be taken as an indication that the Libs are still more interested in preserving top-down power than pursuing good governance.

3 comments:

  1. Greg,

    A fine observation.

    Nods,
    Dan Tan

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  2. that it a great observation. And top down governance started under Chretien so it fits with the Liberal's way of preserving power at the top.

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  3. They might be less sensitive about it if they hadn't just elected a Trudeau to lead them under his father's banner.

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