05.13.2011 09:02 AM

SCC access decision

The Supremes made the right decision.  If they had gone the other way, it would have had some pretty serious cost and security consequences.

Parliament has created multiple safeguards to provide for reasonable access to the doings of government.  But access needs to be weighed against efficiency, too. As Justice LeBel wrote:

“I agree completely with my colleague that this interpretative approach must be reconciled with “the need for a private space to allow for the full and frank discussion of issues” (para. 41).  I also agree with her that in s. 21 of the Act, Parliament has recognized “the need for confidential advice to be sought by and provided to a Minister and [that], consequently, records in a government institution offering such advice are exempt from disclosure at the discretion of the head of the institution” (para. 41).

From a CBC story that skims over the decision:

“…At issue was whether documents physically housed within the Prime Miniser’s Office and the offices of ministers are accessible to the public under the legislation, and whether they are considered officers of the government institutions they head, or are separate.

The legal battle began in 1999 with a campaign to view former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s schedules, and those of the transport and defence ministers. A member of the Reform Party used the access to information law to try to get the records dating back to 1994.

During that time, Chrétien was leading a majority Liberal government and had to fend off a number of controversies. Requests for the records were made to the PMO, the Privy Council Office (the bureaucratic arm of the PMO) and the RCMP, which provides the prime minister’s security detail.”

 

4 Comments

  1. Ted says:

    Harper is without a doubt the least transparent, most secretive and anti-democratic Prime Minister we’ve ever had. No doubt, he is abusing the traditional confidentiality protections granted to the PMO.

    Nevertheless, an abuse of a principle doesn’t mean we get rid of the principle.

    This is the right decision.

    The consequences of the opposite decision would spin off into many adverse consequences to governance.

    • Phil in London says:

      Oh please and stuffing a bunch of cash in brown envelopes and handing it out to bag men (and never paying a dime back) is transparent?

      Please, at least the scandals dug up on the Libranos were real, not some silly note where the word “not” was added.

      Glass houses, throwing stones and all that.

  2. Transplanted Doerite says:

    Totally agree Warren. The Information Commissioner and all those crying about “transparency” and all that rot are doing a terrible disservice to, and insulting the intelligence of, the Canadian public. People advocating for public release of all PMO and Cabinet documents should be careful what they wish for.

    Go that route and the only information that will end up in public documents will be information that can be shared publicly, which is to say, useless/meaningless information. Our ruling politicians would be making decisions based on potentially bad, incomplete, information missing of critical details. I for one don’t want my government – of whatever political stripe – making decisions on the basis of crappy information.

    I’ve seen this exact scenario unfold with provincial freedom of information legislation. Although ostensibly designed to encourage transparency and openness, and well intentioned, it actually does the opposite. It encourages civil servants to self censor at source and even hide information that is critical to all good decision making.

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