Grits assail public's right to know, bureaucrats threatened, agency says
Information watchdog files scathing report
OTTAWA - The Prime Minister's Office is conducting a full-scale assault on
the public right to scrutinize how it is governed via access to information,
the Information Commissioner, John Reid, said yesterday in a blistering
attack on the conduct of the Liberal government.
In an unprecedented report, he accused Jean Chrétien's administration of
threatening commission staff who tried to uncover hidden government
documents. Mr. Reid said senior bureaucrats were threatening the careers of
those charged with protecting the public's right to know.
"There is a full counterattack in progress against the office of the
Information Commissioner," led by the Prime Minister's Office, the Privy
Council Office, Treasury Board and the Department of Justice, Mr. Reid wrote
in a report. "The backlash has become tangible" against the Commissioner's
investigations, generated by a "palpable animosity towards the right of
Members of his staff have had their careers threatened by bureaucrats bent
on stalling or preventing the release of information to taxpayers, he
Coming on the eve of today's publication of the Auditor-General's report,
expected to be critical of the government's handling of several issues,
including the "$1-billion boondoggle" at the Human Resources department, the
Information Commissioner's blast against allegedly systemic cover-up
attempts could damage the Liberals.
"When the Commissioner's subpoenas, searches and questions come too
insistently or too close to the top, the mandarins circle the wagons," the
report says. "The future careers in the public service of the Commissioner's
staff have, in not so subtle terms, been threatened .... This development is
inexcusably unprofessional and profoundly troubling."
"For its part, the Privy Council Office decided to resist and challenge
almost all of the commissioner's investigative powers," he said. Both PCO,
the central policy arm of government, and the Prime Minister's Office have
forced him into costly court cases to get documents that the justice
department has then refused to pay to defend, further straining his budget,
Mr. Reid said.
The Information Commissioner, an officer of Parliament, advocates more open
government and takes on cases where citizens allege the government is not
giving out information it is legally bound to provide. The Access to
Information Act says government information should be available to citizens,
with only limited exceptions .
"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 exemptions to
the right of access should be limited and specific and that decisions on the
disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of
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