Opposition says censoring radio transcript is Bill 29 in action
A Newfoundland and Labrador blogger received a transcript of a CBC radio interview from the provincial government recently - with part of transcript blacked out by government censors.
Keith Hutchings, minister responsible for access to information, said that bureaucrats are just following the law as it's written, but opposition politicians say that overzealous redactions are par for the course after the government passed Bill 29 earlier this year, and rewrote access-to-information laws.
"The average person wouldn't have the means, and a lot wouldn't have the time to jump through all the hoops," Liberal MHA Eddie Joyce said. "It's almost impossible for a private citizen in this province now to put in a freedom of information (request). Almost impossible."
The radio transcript, posted by blogger Wallace McLean online, has sections blacked out by an Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (ATIPP) co-ordinator in the provincial government.
"The content was broadcast on the open airwaves," McLean wrote. "Then it was written down. Then it was blacked out."
Hutchings said government bureaucrats don't decide whether something is in the public domain when they examine whether to release it. They consider whether the legislation says it should be released, and that's it.
"It's a separate activity that's going on in the public domain," he said. "Our concern is that we're following the ATIPP legislation."
Ostensibly, the redactions in McLean's case were about protection of privacy of an individual. The interview dealt with former College of the North Atlantic employee Peter McBreairty, who's been in an ongoing fight over alleged wrongful dismissal.
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Some of the quotes that were blacked out - but can be publicly reviewed since the podcast of the interview is on the CBC website - don't seem to involve privacy issues.
"As recently as February of this year, of 2010, I've had records revealed that got closer to why I was dismissed and, in fact, who dismissed me from the college.
"It is only now that I've been able to get those records," McBreairty said during the interview, but government bureaucrats blacked it out in the transcript.
In the past few months, opposition politicians have consistently complained about access requests where government bureaucrats came back with pages and pages with nothing but blacked out text on them.
NDP MHA George Murphy called them "access to toner" requests, since all they get back in many cases is pages covered in black printer toner.
"It's just another barrier that's used by government. It's a government based on paranoia," he said. "It's in some cases a waste of time. The government has thrown up a wall here."
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