So far, so good

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It’s got the right sort of people, the right tools and the right framework. It will be interesting to see what the panel reviewing the province’s access to information law will come up with.

Answering public concerns about Bill 29, the provincial government has appointed three review commissioners to examine the law: former premier and Newfoundland Supreme Court Justice Clyde Wells, former CBC journalist Doug Letto and Jennifer Stoddart, who has served as Canada’s privacy commissioner.

It’s an intriguing list. Wells is a skilled jurist with his own particular views on propriety, information and government — not all of them a free ride for absolutely open files.

Stoddart was Canada’s sixth privacy commissioner and held that job for a decade — a crucial decade, because it included the explosion of data collection and privacy problems delivered by the rapid growth of the Internet. As privacy commissioner, she took on Google and Facebook over privacy concerns and worked to establish privacy benchmarks with the federal government. Some observers have called her Canada’s best privacy commissioner.

And Letto comes from a newsroom that has had significant trials and travails with the access system. From a practical point of view, he should have pretty solid knowledge of the types of brick walls thrown up by the existing legislation.

But the provincial government didn’t just announce the panel, it also released the panel’s terms of reference. And while those terms suggest areas that the provincial government wants to see addressed, they’re relatively open-ended, meaning the panel can move into any area where it identifies problems.

It’s something Premier Tom Marshall says will vault this province’s legislation forward.

“In making the announcement, Premier Marshall noted that government is committed to ensuring that Newfoundland and Labrador has a strong statutory framework for access to information and protection of privacy, which when measured against international standards, will rank among the best.”

Will suggested changes be applied?

Well, the government is not painting itself into a corner, and you can’t really blame them for that.

There is an important caveat in the news release announcing the review members: “The final report will be released publicly and all recommendations carefully considered by government,” the release says.

It say “carefully considered” — not that any changes will be implemented.

It is a safety net, for sure, but once the report is publicly released, it will be abundantly clear if the government chooses not to apply any of the recommendations.

This is a good start to address the problems in the existing legislation.

It’s a well-thought-out group of reviewers, with enough leeway to allow them full range in examining the existing law.

Good things can come of this.

Organizations: CBC, Google

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 19, 2014 - 13:53

    It should be noted that at the federal level, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act are two separate pieces of legislation. Certainly, that is not for no reason.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 19, 2014 - 12:23

    This is (or more correctly, should be) primarily about the democratic right of a citizen to know what his or her government is doing, what it is up to, how and why it is spending citizens' tax dollars..... To give a former privacy commissioner an equal place, equal influence on the committee is prejudicing that committee in favour of only one of many reasons why a request for information could or should be denied.... A citizens right to know is a fundamental, preeminent democratic principle. This is, I would suggest, a fundamental flaw in the committee structure.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 19, 2014 - 07:16

    Government had no qualms with painting the PUB into a corner, and then even pushing them off the platform. This serves the purpose of kicking the can down the road, all while government's Muskrat Falls oversight committee works under existing restrictions.