ATIPPA review gauging public interest

Andrew Robinson
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Working out how many consultation hearings will take place

The committee tasked with reviewing the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act  (ATIPPA) — including amendments introduced under Bill 29 — hopes to have a better idea next month of how much interest there is in public hearings.

Members of the committee are reviewing the province’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act met for the first time this week in St. John’s. The committee consists of Jennifer Stoddart, Clyde Wells (above) and Doug Letto. — Photo by Andrew Robinson/The Telegram

Its members met for the first time this week in St. John’s and announced Friday it is calling on the public to contact the committee if they are interested in making written or in-person submissions. A deadline of May 12 has been set.

“What we have to do, really, is determine the extent to which it’s going to be necessary for us to develop procedures around the province, provide for public hearings and so on,” said committee chair Clyde Wells, a former chief justice who was the premier of Newfoundland and Labrador from 1989 to 1996.

Speaking to reporters in the main lobby of the Scotia Centre, Wells said it is important to have an understanding of how people want to participate in the review.

“I would expect that we will be doing public hearings, but what we didn’t want to do is organize 20 or 30 public hearings around the province only to find that people were going to do it by email or by written submissions,” he said.

“So what we’re doing now is trying to discern the extent of the need for public hearings, and only once we’ve developed information on that will we expend the funds necessary to set them up.”

Wells hopes to see hearings get underway in June at the latest, though he suggested that process may continue into September if  summer proves to be an inconvenient season for public participation.

Wells said it is conceivable the committee’s report could be completed by  mid-to late fall.

“It’s going to depend on the extent to which people want to make representations and how many (people) in how many places, and so on. Then, of course, we’ve got a good deal of research to do, because one of the requirements of the terms of reference is that we do an assessment of comparable provisions in other jurisdictions to ensure that we develop a good standard for Newfoundland as well. That’s going to require a fair amount of work that we could do during the course of the summer when we might not be involved in public hearings.”

Wells was reticent to share his own views on the pros and cons of ATIPPA as it currently exists. Noting the importance of cabinet confidentiality, Wells said the public’s right to know must also be acknowledged in certain instances.

Retired CBC journalist Doug Letto and former federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart are the committee’s other members.

“I can’t say to you at this moment that I expect all three of us will end up with precisely the same view at the end of the day, but we’ll try and express a unified view if we can. If we can’t, then we simply identify a variation of that view.”

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

Contact the review committee


Or write to:

ATIPPA Review Committee

Suite C

83 Thorburn Rd.

St. John’s, NL

A1B 3M2

Organizations: Scotia Centre, CBC

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

    April 12, 2014 - 14:25

    'Noting the importance of cabinet confidentiality, Wells said the public's right to know must be acknowledged in certain instances.'.................... Barely out of the blocks and already Wells is sending signals that offer little comfort to the great majority of Newfoundlanders who believe this government - and its Bill 29 - are by far the most secretive in this country. Like the presumption of innocence under criminal law - a precept with which Mr. Wells is well acquainted - the default premise under any ATIPPA legislation should be that the public has an inherent right of access to information in the possession of its government. Then come the exceptions - not the other way around. Second - the mere fact that a document explicitly prepared for Cabinet consideration - i.e. briefing papers and recommendations, is exempted from disclosure should not automatically exempt its antecedent documents. This has become the excuse-of-choice for refusing to release a massive amount of documentation that was not drafted for Cabinet consideration. Third - the people and agencies in possession of the information, including their ministers, cannot be the final arbiter of what is and what is not exempt from production. That's tantamount to putting the fox in charge of the hen house. Fourth- unlike the existing information and privacy office, we need a robust arms-length agency (think auditor general) with teeth - led by an independent minded commissioner with teeth. Finally, my prediction is that you won't need 20 or 30 days of hearing around the province. For many people, the nitty-gritty of this discussion is something of an esoteric exercise. This is not like the feds gutting its search and rescue presence in Newfoundland or giving our shrimp resources to other provinces. There won't be any mass protests outside your door. But please don't take that to mean the public doesn't know or care what all of this is about. They might not have read the legislation but they can read the tea leaves. They well understand that we have endured one of the most secretive, untruthful, arrogant, autocratic and conniving governments with which this province has ever had the misfortune of being saddled. Their gut tells them these guys have been cherry picking what they will and won't reveal to the public to a degree that would put banana republics to shame. Frankly, I don't think we need a commission of enquiry to fix something that wasn't broke before this crowd took office. Yes there is room for improvement in the new electronic age, but that could have been accomplished by any self-respecting legislative draftsman in a fourth-night. I had hoped that Coleman (someone for whom I have some respect) would pledge to do the right thing by Bill 29 - repeal it. Sadly, he has already crippled his credibility with an astonishing public embrace of the 'wonderful' policies and principles of his (will-be) predecessors. So essentially it's down to Ball who I expect will follow through on his commitment to repeal Bill 29. Depending on the strength of its findings, your report might or might not constitute a road map for amendments and information policy changes that follow that rescission.