ATIPPA watchdog says time being wasted

James McLeod
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Issue in court could have been sorted out in 15 minutes

Information and Privacy Commissioner Ed Ring said he was happy with the outcome, but he clearly thought the whole thing was a waste of time.

For a year and a half, lawyers have sent documents back and forth, slowly working their way towards a hearing in July, where Judge Valerie Marshall was asked to review a document and decide whether the government was right to keep it secret.

The two-page legal memo from 1999, concerning the PC party’s proposed “Outdoor bill of rights” was entirely legal advice, Marshall found, and the government was right to withhold it.

Before Bill 29 amended the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in 2012, it was Ring’s job to review disputed cases where a citizen wanted documents from the government, but government said they couldn’t be released because they contained sensitive information.

Bill 29 changed the law so that when it comes to cabinet documents and information protected by attorney-client privilege, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner must go to court and get a judge to review the documents.

After the ruling, Ring said that from what he heard Marshall say about the document in question, it’s pretty clear that it’s all legal advice, and the government was right to block its release.

Ring said that before Bill 29, he undoubtably would have come to the same conclusion; he just doesn’t think it would have taken so long.

“It would have taken 15 minutes,” Ring said.

Without being able to see the documents, though, Ring said that he’s got no choice but to go to court — and he’s done it several times since Bill 29 was passed.

Marshall seemed to appreciate that the whole process is cumbersome.

In her ruling, she specifically pointed out that nothing in the law says that the information and privacy commissioner’s office can’t ask the government for more detail on why they’re withholding documents, and it’s not against the law for the government to offer a specific explanation as to why something needs to be kept under wraps.

She said maybe that sort of thing could prevent at least some of the cases from showing up in court.

While all of this is going on, former premier Clyde Wells, former federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and retired journalist Doug Letto are reviewing the access to information law and preparing to make formal recommendations for ways to fix the system.

Wells, who is a judge, has voiced concerns that the system moves too slowly, even under ideal circumstances.

Organizations: Office of the Information

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