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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.

Organizations: CBC, Canadian International Development Agency, World Bank UN Oxfam Canada University of New Brunswick Dalhousie University Halifax Refugee Clinic Amnesty International Canada

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ethiopia Guatemala Africa Latin America Canada

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Recent comments

  • David
    June 18, 2012 - 12:22

    If Mr. Collins wants to know more about "two-bit outfits" with a lack of "supposed expertise in....stuff", he need look no further than NALCOR and it's recently announced board appointments. Beyond laughable. Saddamesque.

  • Ed. Anstey
    June 17, 2012 - 07:22

    I have voted PC all my life but unless they can come up with more qualified people to run i will never vote PC as long as i live. danny williams was the best premier we ever had and dunderdale is the worst. sorry joey i always thought you were the worst but dunderdale have outdone you. and the sad part of this for the party is that not one single person in the present government is qualified to be a cabinet minister so there is definitely no one there to be premier. what a bunch of losers. i hope the liberals can get their act together so that i will have someone to vote for. BRING ON THE NEXT ELECTION.

  • Daniel Corbett
    June 16, 2012 - 12:41

    Felix Collins recently stated that Her Majesty’s Penitentiary was the Achilles Heel of the Justice System in NL. He was wrong; he and his minions are the collective Achilles Heel of the Justice System in Newfoundland and Labrador. They are a disgrace to the very notion of Justice, never mind Freedom of Information Legislation. Minister Collins’ minions, who really run the show in the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Justice, have covered up for sleazy politicians and other officials for years. Their passion for covering up is where the real power and the need to make these insane changes to the Freedom of Information Legislation comes from. They have done such a great job at stone-walling and covering up issues of sleaze that they have become sleaze themselves. The occupational hazard here is that everybody in the system has something on everybody else! Not a Mexican stand-off but a Newfoundland stand-off where every aspect of the system becomes dysfunctional. Prior to Minister Collins, the two previous Ministers of Justice literally ran from the job. In a sane world the role of the Justice Minister in a province of Canada would be considered a prestigious job, a position garnering respect for the holder of the office. One would assume that any politician would jump at the chance of being Minister of Justice. The next Minister of Justice of NL will be no more qualified than the current one and he or she will have to be dragged to his seat of office much like the British Ritual of placing a Speaker in his seat at the Legislature. Unlike that ritual the next Minister of Justice will, for real, have to be dragged kicking and screaming to his seat of office all because of a history of covering up sleaze.

  • KD
    June 16, 2012 - 10:10

    It seems the pcs are taking a page from joey smallwood who thought the people of nl were stupid enough to vote for him no matter what he done The liberals now need to get a leader as soon as possible and some credible candiates and for sure they will form the next government what a mess the pcs has created for themselves I have voted pc all my life and now in my sixties will not be voting pc again this bunch reminds me of Brian Mulroney

  • Skeptical Cynic
    June 16, 2012 - 09:11

    The Dunderdale government and it's loutish, befuddled ministers such as Felix Collins continue to squander what's left of Danny Williams' hard-earned political capital. The weak and ineffectual leadership demonstrated over the last year by a chronically exasperated premier in over her head was disappointing enough, but it's clear now with the outrageous Bill 29 that this government has totally lost touch with the electorate. The clock started ticking on this crowd with Williams' departure; it is now evident that the Dunderdale government has gone beyond its best-before date and the writing is on the wall. So the question is… will the party that offers itself to form the next provincial government commit to undoing the damage done to taxpayers' right to know by repealing the Dunderdale government's version of the Official Secrets Act?

  • David
    June 16, 2012 - 08:40

    Collins is an embarrassment to Newfoundland, but his latest spectacle can serve some worthwhile purpose. He illustrates the desparate lack of qualified, capable political skills in the Newfoundland legislature, a problem so acute that someone of Collins' ilk is appointed to cabinet. He makes one seriously doubt the necessitry or benefit of any benchmarking MHAs salaries to their peers in any other province in Canada ---- far too many of these MHAs are highly, if not completely, unemployable. Let's put it this way...if their salaries were all cut by 20%, how many of them would quit?

  • William Daniels
    June 16, 2012 - 08:27

    Collins continues to embarrass. He has brought buffoonery to a new level