Federal watchdog calls for appeals on Newfoundland rulings

Rob Antle
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Commissioner says N.L. ruling could have wide-ranging impacts

Canada's information commissioner wants her Newfoundland and Labrador counterpart to appeal two recent court decisions that restrict the provincial watchdog's powers.

Federal commissioner Suzanne Legault said the two rulings could have an impact on government transparency across the country.

Canada's information commissioner wants her Newfoundland and Labrador counterpart to appeal two recent court decisions that restrict the provincial watchdog's powers.

Federal commissioner Suzanne Legault said the two rulings could have an impact on government transparency across the country.

"We are definitely following this closely and we're certainly hoping that these decisions will be appealed," Legault told The Telegram in an interview.

Legault said she has been in touch with the Newfoundland and Labrador commissioner to express her concerns.

She said it is too early to say whether the federal office could file for intervenor status in any future appeals, but indicated it is a possibility.

Legault stressed that the Newfoundland and Labrador cases "really strike at the core" of watchdog abilities to make sure that governments are properly applying the law when they withhold information from the public.

"It's a slippery slope in terms of encroachment (on) this independent oversight, and that's why Canadians - in all provinces and territories - should be concerned, because we have to make sure that this independent oversight remains," Legault noted.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador's information commissioner, Ed Ring, said he plans to meet next week with key staff and legal advisers.

"We will consider all options for redress/solutions available and proceed from there," Ring noted in a Friday e-mail, adding he is "very disappointed" with both court decisions.

"They potentially represent a huge impact on our office regarding its ability to effectively carry out the mandate of the (information and privacy commissioner)."

He acknowledged that the rulings could also have "potentially serious implications for other jurisdictions."

Earlier this week, Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Valerie Marshall ruled that Ring's office is barred from looking at anything the government considers legal advice.

The specific case involved a private citizen seeking information in her own personnel file from the province.

The government wouldn't provide it, citing solicitor-client privilege.

The citizen appealed to the information and privacy watchdog.

When the commissioner started an investigation, the Williams administration sued to block access to the documents.

In a March 11, 2009, letter to the then-attorney general, Ring claimed that the government's interpretation of solicitor-client privilege would effectively neuter the public's right to access government records.

"Should your interpretation be accepted, it will become the norm for public bodies to obtain cursory legal advice on each review, thereby allowing the public body to ... evade independent verification of its assertions by my office," Ring wrote in the letter, which was included with court filings.

"This is utterly incongruent with the purpose and intention of (the law). It would undermine the confidence of the public in my office and in the principles of openness, transparency and accountability."

Marshall's ruling followed another Supreme Court decision this month that also restricted what the provincial watchdog can review.

Justice Robert Fowler denied the commissioner the right to look at a broad swath of documents - including MHA constituency records - described in a 10-point section of the act.

Fowler said the legislature should look at making changes to the law to clarify the watchdog's powers.

The Williams administration came to power on a promise of unprecedented openness and transparency.

But the Tory government has since moved to block public release of a wide range of records and worked to weaken oversights on access to information laws.

rantle@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram, Supreme Court

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Sherri
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Barb, you had me on your side until you talked about seal pelts. Do/did you ever wear leather or eat/use animal products or by-products ? If ALL the seal is used, why throw out the pelts ? Throwing out the pelts would be tantamount to sacrilege. This animal has lost it's life and we should make sure we waste none of it. If the Europeans ONLY use rabbit furs and the meat is DISCARDED, then I disagree with the Europeans killing these animals (70 million a year). Try refocusing your emotions.

  • Bill
    July 02, 2010 - 13:31

    It is time to get rid of all watchdogs at both the provincial and federal level. Watchdogs, like the senate, are highly undemocratic institutions and mechanisms which serve no useful purpose at tremendous and wasted cost.

    Each and every watchdog has a personal and political agenda and serves no one other than someone else with a personal and political agenda. It is the power of one impacting a nation of millions.

    If government runs afoul of the law the courts are available to punish it, it is the duty and function of the opposition to highlight it and it is the responsibility of the people to throw it out.

    Watchdogs are wasteful, useless and pointless.

  • Stop the Racket
    July 02, 2010 - 13:30

    Do whatever is necessary to expose the Williams government for the underhanded manipulative dictatorship it really is. The sooner the better.

  • Bob
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    I know the opposition parties are small in numbers, but surely they could make some noise about this or are they in favour of this ruling. Either way, let us know where you stand, please.

  • Barb
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    To: Sherri from Collingwood.

    You remind me of English students that I used to teach who answered exam questions with having a clue what the point of the novel was or, sometimes, without having even read the book. Read my comment again. Try and get beyond the literal meaning of the sentence.

  • Truman
    July 02, 2010 - 13:19

    Ed Ring said he plans to meet next week with key staff and legal advisers.

    Canada's information commissioner is now involved and the whole country is watching.

    Here we go... what's this gonna cost us Danny ? Idiot.

  • Frank
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    I never agreed with putting restrictions on government watchdogs. I am very disappointed as this is another slap in the face for our cancer patients who were beginning to have some trust in our health care services of
    Newfoundland and Labrador.
    There will never be any trust in a system where there is not a Watchdog Act enforced to keep an eye on the crookery of crooks!

  • Judith
    July 02, 2010 - 13:18

    Danny is a much better with law and the corruption that goes with it, than he is in a leadership role in a democracy. Right now he is ruling, not leading.
    Danny has placed himself above the law, but time will tell whether that will be the detriment of his career or not.
    Remember there is a big difference between the words Just and Legal , but surely we must have faith that Justice will pervail.

  • don
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    I agree completely with the Federal Information Commissioner. These Court rulings MUST be appealed! All the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary! I implore every right thinking and ethical Canadian to oppose our little dictator and stop this slide into dictatorship and demagoguery with which we are threatened. Dictator Danny must be stopped from treading on our rights in order to turn Newfoundland and Labrador into his own personal fiefdom with him as KING. Dictator Danny has moved to stack the Courts and quasi-judicial tribunals with his hand picked peons and is now moving to emasculate and strip our legislative and constitutional protections. We are now at risk from unfettered abuses of power by Government politicians and bureaucrats. I hope that Mr. Ring follows the advice of his Federal counterpart and does all that he can to overturn this outrageous injustice. Open, honest and transparent Government is the servant and protector of the people! Closed, secretive, restrictive, corrupt and conspiratorial Government is the tool used by dictators to unjustly enrich themselves and their minions, to oppress the people and punish their opponents. Wake up people! Wake up Media! Wake up Loyal Opposition! See and understand clearly what Dictator Danny is doing right in front of your eyes, speak out and act to stop it.

  • Barb
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    All Canadians - not just the minute number of non-Danny fawners - need to pay close attention to this ruling and its ramifications. If the federal government has the power to strike down this ruling, then it is imperative that it do so. Let Danny have a temper tantrum. Let him throw seal pelts at Harper. Let him froth at the mouth about doing this for the good of Newfoundlanders. He is no longer believable. He has been exposed for the egomaniac that he is.

  • IN HARM'S WAY!
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    IMAGINE BEING THE APPLICANT, TRYING TO GET ANSWERS AND BEING BARRED AT EACH AND EVERY TURN. SO MUCH FOR TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY THEY ARE JUST WORDS IN A DICTIONARY BUT SO ARE THE CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS.

    TO DO NOTHING, MERELY ENDORSES THE CORRUPT BEHAVIOUR!

    THE TENANCITY OF THIS GOVERNMENT TO PRECLUDE THEIR OWN AGENCY INTO OPENING THE FILE MAKES ONE WONDER?

    WHAT ARE THEY HIDING? WHAT ARE THEY SO AFRAID OF?

    JUST LIKE JACK NICHOLSON SAID IN THE MOVIE A FEW GOOD MEN

    PERHAPS THEY CANT HANDLE THE TRUTH

    BUT PERHAPS THE APPLICANT HAS THIS ON HER BUCKET LIST

  • Sherri
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Barb, you had me on your side until you talked about seal pelts. Do/did you ever wear leather or eat/use animal products or by-products ? If ALL the seal is used, why throw out the pelts ? Throwing out the pelts would be tantamount to sacrilege. This animal has lost it's life and we should make sure we waste none of it. If the Europeans ONLY use rabbit furs and the meat is DISCARDED, then I disagree with the Europeans killing these animals (70 million a year). Try refocusing your emotions.

  • Bill
    July 01, 2010 - 20:20

    It is time to get rid of all watchdogs at both the provincial and federal level. Watchdogs, like the senate, are highly undemocratic institutions and mechanisms which serve no useful purpose at tremendous and wasted cost.

    Each and every watchdog has a personal and political agenda and serves no one other than someone else with a personal and political agenda. It is the power of one impacting a nation of millions.

    If government runs afoul of the law the courts are available to punish it, it is the duty and function of the opposition to highlight it and it is the responsibility of the people to throw it out.

    Watchdogs are wasteful, useless and pointless.

  • Stop the Racket
    July 01, 2010 - 20:18

    Do whatever is necessary to expose the Williams government for the underhanded manipulative dictatorship it really is. The sooner the better.

  • Bob
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    I know the opposition parties are small in numbers, but surely they could make some noise about this or are they in favour of this ruling. Either way, let us know where you stand, please.

  • Barb
    July 01, 2010 - 20:11

    To: Sherri from Collingwood.

    You remind me of English students that I used to teach who answered exam questions with having a clue what the point of the novel was or, sometimes, without having even read the book. Read my comment again. Try and get beyond the literal meaning of the sentence.

  • Truman
    July 01, 2010 - 20:02

    Ed Ring said he plans to meet next week with key staff and legal advisers.

    Canada's information commissioner is now involved and the whole country is watching.

    Here we go... what's this gonna cost us Danny ? Idiot.

  • Frank
    July 01, 2010 - 20:00

    I never agreed with putting restrictions on government watchdogs. I am very disappointed as this is another slap in the face for our cancer patients who were beginning to have some trust in our health care services of
    Newfoundland and Labrador.
    There will never be any trust in a system where there is not a Watchdog Act enforced to keep an eye on the crookery of crooks!

  • Judith
    July 01, 2010 - 19:59

    Danny is a much better with law and the corruption that goes with it, than he is in a leadership role in a democracy. Right now he is ruling, not leading.
    Danny has placed himself above the law, but time will tell whether that will be the detriment of his career or not.
    Remember there is a big difference between the words Just and Legal , but surely we must have faith that Justice will pervail.

  • don
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    I agree completely with the Federal Information Commissioner. These Court rulings MUST be appealed! All the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary! I implore every right thinking and ethical Canadian to oppose our little dictator and stop this slide into dictatorship and demagoguery with which we are threatened. Dictator Danny must be stopped from treading on our rights in order to turn Newfoundland and Labrador into his own personal fiefdom with him as KING. Dictator Danny has moved to stack the Courts and quasi-judicial tribunals with his hand picked peons and is now moving to emasculate and strip our legislative and constitutional protections. We are now at risk from unfettered abuses of power by Government politicians and bureaucrats. I hope that Mr. Ring follows the advice of his Federal counterpart and does all that he can to overturn this outrageous injustice. Open, honest and transparent Government is the servant and protector of the people! Closed, secretive, restrictive, corrupt and conspiratorial Government is the tool used by dictators to unjustly enrich themselves and their minions, to oppress the people and punish their opponents. Wake up people! Wake up Media! Wake up Loyal Opposition! See and understand clearly what Dictator Danny is doing right in front of your eyes, speak out and act to stop it.

  • Barb
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    All Canadians - not just the minute number of non-Danny fawners - need to pay close attention to this ruling and its ramifications. If the federal government has the power to strike down this ruling, then it is imperative that it do so. Let Danny have a temper tantrum. Let him throw seal pelts at Harper. Let him froth at the mouth about doing this for the good of Newfoundlanders. He is no longer believable. He has been exposed for the egomaniac that he is.

  • IN HARM'S WAY!
    July 01, 2010 - 19:44

    IMAGINE BEING THE APPLICANT, TRYING TO GET ANSWERS AND BEING BARRED AT EACH AND EVERY TURN. SO MUCH FOR TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY THEY ARE JUST WORDS IN A DICTIONARY BUT SO ARE THE CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS.

    TO DO NOTHING, MERELY ENDORSES THE CORRUPT BEHAVIOUR!

    THE TENANCITY OF THIS GOVERNMENT TO PRECLUDE THEIR OWN AGENCY INTO OPENING THE FILE MAKES ONE WONDER?

    WHAT ARE THEY HIDING? WHAT ARE THEY SO AFRAID OF?

    JUST LIKE JACK NICHOLSON SAID IN THE MOVIE A FEW GOOD MEN

    PERHAPS THEY CANT HANDLE THE TRUTH

    BUT PERHAPS THE APPLICANT HAS THIS ON HER BUCKET LIST