Published on June 18, 2012
NDP MHA Dale Kirby shows an example of an access to information request he recently got back from the province as fellow MHA George Murphy holds a loudspeaker. Nearly the entire document is redacted. — Photos by Colin MacLean/The Telegram
Published on June 18, 2012
Three-year-old Xavier Pierson watches NDP MHA Dale Kirby make a speech during a rally against Bill 29 at Confederation Building on Saturday.
Protesters rally against changes to information legislation
Their camp at Harbourside Park might be gone but the folks of Occupy NL have not lost their propensity to mobilize protests on controversial issues.
The latest target of the group’s anger is Bill 29 — the controversial piece of legislation that touched off a marathon filibuster session in the House of Assembly last week.
The bill, which was finally passed in the House Friday, makes changes to Newfoundland and Labrador’s Access to Information legislation that put tighter constraints on what documents can be released to the public.
The 80 or so people waving signs and chanting slogans on the steps of Confederation Building on Saturday took issue with that idea.
Thomas Clarke has been an active participant in Occupy NL since the movement started more than a year ago.
On Saturday he carried a sign that read, “democracy is being blacked out,” with parts of the “democracy” coloured black.
Access to information requests regularly come back partially or completely redacted with black ink.
Clarke said only about 10 of the people at the protest were from Occupy, and the rest were others who are concerned about the changes to the information law. A few members of the opposition were also in attendance.
“People are realizing how important that this is. The broadening that this bill will give to cabinet is pretty crazy. As far as I can tell, the information act from before was fine. They must be afraid of something. That’s my opinion,” said Clarke.
Those comments were repeated a lot throughout the protest. The general sentiment was one of anger — and suspicion.
Joy Newhook attended because she’s worried what Bill 29 will do for future generations.
“I came out for myself, my children and hopefully for my future grandchildren,” said Newhook.
She expressed deep misgivings about any government information being hidden from public view.
“If they’re going to hide underneath secrecy, you gotta wonder, why?”
The province disagrees with all these assessments.
It has stated that the changes will make access to information request more accessible to the people who really need them and will protect people and companies interested in doing business in the province.
It has also stated that an inordinate amount of requests are already coming in, tying up resources and personnel.
Newhook doesn’t buy the province’s arguments.
Even if there are a lot of requests coming in to the government for information — there are more than likely good reasons behind them, she said.
“Behind those requests are people that are either hurting, they’re looking for something, they’re probably sick, mentally ill. They’re trying to get help with the system,” she said.
Others came because of philosophical views.
Bob Ryan came to the protest because he believes the free flow of information is critical to a democracy, and in his view Bill 29 limits that.
“What the Tories did in the last week or so I find revolting. I think it sets us back a long ways.”
Speakers at the protest included members of the NDP caucus and representatives from Occupy NL, The Council of Canadians and others.
The opposition Liberals and NDP have vowed to continue to fight Bill 29.
This article has been corrected