The College of the North Atlantic (CNA) apparently had no justification when it flatly refused to hand over documents under access to information laws.
© — Submitted photo
At least, that’s what the information and privacy commissioner concluded, because when he was asked to investigate the situation, the college didn’t bother to say anything in its own defence.
Ed Ring, the access to information watchdog, is calling on the college to hand over financial documents related to the College of the North Atlantic’s Qatar campus.
In his report, Ring said it’s up to the college to prove that if it wants to keep documents secret, it has justification for doing so.
“On its face, it is difficult to accept that financial documents of a public institution should not be released. Given the fact that there was no submission at all by the college to support its position, it clear that the college has not met the burden of proof,” the report says.
The report doesn’t reveal who was making the request, but whoever it was wanted to see payroll and budget information for the CNA Qatar project.
The Qatar project has been the source of controversy, with financial errors costing millions of dollars, and complaints of a toxic work environment.
“The secrecy that’s pervading that organization — and in turn, this government … it’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Liberal House Leader Andrew Parsons, who has spent a fair amount of time studying the Qatar situation.
“They don’t have a great track record,” Parsons said. “We were also turned down. We asked for a copy of the comprehensive agreement (with the State of Qatar) and we were turned down.”
The documents were refused under a section of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which allows the government to keep things secret if they might be damaging to intergovernmental relations.
Parsons said the fact CNA didn’t even bother to offer a defence to that justification says a lot.
“It’s a blatant disregard for the rules,” he said. “They’re not even bothering to attempt to do what’s right here, and basically saying, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”
The college issued an emailed statement on behalf of president Ann Marie Vaughn, which defended the decision to not hand over the financial documents.
However, while Vaughan defended the situation, she offered no explanation on why she didn’t bother to defend the situation when the information and privacy commissioner was investigating.
“The type of information requested, we feel, could disadvantage us in our business relationship with the State of Qatar. As you know, the college negotiates a business arrangement to deliver education services in Qatar,” Vaughan said in the emailed statement. “The process is competitive and, like any business which bids on work, we have to refrain from making our competitive information available publicly.”
The college is a publicly funded institution owned entirely by the government, but in the case of Qatar, Vaughan said, it’s more of a business enterprise.
“It’s odd in some senses as most people would view the college as a public entity and find it awkward to see the college as a ‘business’ in this case. Because the release of the information could negatively affect us, it makes no sense to make it available to the applicant.”