“The more you leave out, the more you highlight what you leave in.”
— British author Henry Green
The provincial government reached a stunning new low this week in its determination to keep everything a Great Big Secret.
The Liberals went looking for information on a Mining Matters workshop offered to students in a handful of Labrador schools last spring, in order to determine if it’s a program that might have merit provincewide.
Sounds innocuous enough, right?
In response to the request, the Liberals received a letter some eight weeks later that said, “I am pleased to inform you that your request for access to these records has been granted.”
There was just one little hitch.
Part of the information requested was feedback provided by the students at the workshop — 20 pages of it. The problem is, 19 of those pages were partially or totally blacked out.
What kind of high-ranking, sensitive information is it the government didn’t want the Liberals to see? Well, students’ answers to questions such as, “What was your favourite part of the workshop?” “What did you learn about Rocks and Minerals today?” And “Anything else you’d like to tell us?”
The government says this data could not be shared under Section 30 of the Sorry, You Can’t Have That Information Act, which protects the disclosure of personal details.
But guess what? There was no personal information. Not names. Not ages. Not gender. Nada.
And not only did the government deem the students’ responses top secret, but some of the options to the questions they were asked were blacked out, too. Like this example:
What did you learn about the mining industry today
— some rocks have/conduct electricity
— some rocks stick to magnets/are magnetic
— there is a rock that has gold on it
Honestly. Someone actually had to manually go through kids’ feedback and black out questions and answers. Your tax dollars at work, folks. Thanks, Bill 29.
How can information that identifies no one be redacted on the grounds that it is “personal information”?
They’d have been scarcely less credible if they’d censored it on the grounds that it was briefing material for the natural resources minister.
Protecting this kind of incendiary data must be what then justice minister Felix Collins had in mind when he was defending Bill 29 in the House of Assembly in June.
“Mr. Speaker, it is one thing to say that everybody has to have access to information,” he said, “and we have to give out as much information as we can, this act gives that right; but also, Mr. Speaker, it strikes a balance in what is in the interest of good stewardship and the interest of good government.”
I guess in the interest of good government we’re not allowed to know what young Johnny and Sally said in response to the hard-hitting question: “What was your least favourite part of the workshop?”
That’s right, Mr. Collins — unleash those shocking details and the whole world will explode.
The Liberals’ request — not that it matters who made it — was neither frivolous, nor vexatious. It was not a request for either personal or proprietory information.
It was a legitimate request for information that should have been readily available and provided in a timely matter.
In fact, such basic information should not even require an access request to be made.
In September, I contacted The Rooms to inquire whether minutes from its board of directors meetings were publicly available, as I could not find them on The Rooms’ website.
I was told that they were available to the public, but that I could not ask for a copy unless I knew the exact date of the board meeting in question.
I asked whether the meeting schedule was available online.
It is not. Keep in mind that The Rooms is a public facility.
After conceding that I was not psychic and therefore could not possibly know the dates of board meetings without initiating a protracted guessing game, I had to file an access request to find out when the meeting was and to receive the minutes, parts of which were blacked out.
Who’s being frivolous and vexatious now?
Perhaps the provincial government could learn a lesson from Memorial University.
When you contact their office in charge of access to information and ask how to make a formal access request, guess what the response is?
“What are you looking for, exactly? Let’s see if we can get that for you without you having to go the access-request route.”
Openness. Accountability. Transparency.
What a concept.
What do I really think of Bill 29?
Pam Frampton is a columnist and
The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at