The filibuster over changes to access-to-information legislation is now over, and to the victor go the spoils. Justice Minister Felix Collins issued a press release Friday morning essentially saying all criticisms of the changes were false, and that the tightening-up of the law to exclude access to information was actually “many positive changes.” He did not indicate who the changes would be positive for.
But while the debate may now be in the books, there’s one piece of the record that clearly needs to be considered. And it speaks to the issue of credibility.
Earlier this week, the Centre for Law and Democracy rated the changes proposed to the law, and called the move a “breathtaking” move backwards — the group also pointed out that, strictly in terms of access to information law, an impartial ranking they did for the CBC would put Newfoundland’s law as worse than those in countries like Ethiopia, Guatemala and Uganda.
They’ve since said that they are surprised by Collins’ lack of knowledge about access to information in other jurisdictions. Here’s how Minister Collins describes the centre: “This outfit, whoever they are, this two-bit outfit that was quoted in TV, who supposedly have some expertise in this stuff? Are they looking for money or something?”
Collins’ own resumé indicates he attended law school after his retirement as a teacher and principal. It does not include his areas of legal expertise.
Here are some snippets from the biographies of the members of the centre.
Executive director Toby Mendel: “Toby Mendel was for over 12 years senior director for Law at ARTICLE 19, a human rights NGO focusing on freedom of expression and the right to information. He has provided expertise on these rights to a wide range of actors including the World Bank, various UN and other intergovernmental bodies, and numerous governments and NGOs in countries all over the world. In these various roles, he has often played a leading role in drafting legislation in the areas of the right to information and media regulation. Before joining ARTICLE 19, he worked as a senior human rights consultant with Oxfam Canada and as a human rights policy analyst at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). He has published extensively on a range of freedom of expression, right to information, communication rights and refugee issues, including comparative legal and analytical studies on public service broadcasting, the right to information and broadcast policy.”
Board member Lee Cohen: “Lee Cohen is a practising lawyer in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He graduated from the University of New Brunswick with a B.Ed. in 1977 and from Dalhousie University Law School in 1980. He was granted his Q.C. in 2002. Lee’s practice is dedicated entirely to immigration, refugees and human rights. He established the Halifax Refugee Clinic, a non-profit, pro bono clinic that provides legal and settlement services for people claiming refugee status in Nova Scotia or requiring humanitarian immigration services, where he currently serves as chair of the board and as a volunteer counsel. Lee is a well-known authority on immigration, refugee and discrimination issues.”
Board member Alex Neve: “He has served as secretary general of Amnesty International Canada since 2000. In that role he has carried out numerous human rights research missions throughout Africa and Latin America as well as within Canada.”
Others include a former dean of Dalhousie’s law school and a co-chair of Nova Scotia’ law reform commission.
Two-bit outfit? In the eye of the beholder, perhaps. But maybe that snippet of Collins’ hyperbole should tell you something about the “many positive changes,” too.