Hart’s defence of the realm

Too hard? You’ve got to be kidding. This is Glenn Hart’s pathetic excuse for not reviewing and retooling the Access to Information and…

Too hard?

You’ve got to be kidding.

This is Glenn Hart’s pathetic excuse for not reviewing and retooling the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

He knows the review is necessary.

In 2005, he suggested the law was like Swiss cheese — full of holes.

But, in the end, conducting a review was too complicated, he decided.

“Many off the issues surrounding (the act) are very complex and require significant planning and research time before legislative options can be presented to the stakeholders.”

Too hard.

Unbelievable.

For years, Hank Moorlag, the territory’s information and privacy czar, has been recommending the act be fixed.

Drafted eight years ago, the thing was never very good. And it has eroded in the intervening years.

“We have lost ground with the legislation,” said Moorlag.

Why?

Because the civil service doesn’t follow it.

“I have a continuing concern that, eight years after the act came into force, the purpose and intent of the legislation hasn’t made its way into the culture of the civil service,” said Moorlag.

So, when a department receives a request, it’s not thinking about the law, it’s thinking about departmental policy.

Moorlag outlines a few reasons why the rapidly degrading law should be fixed.

First, though ATIPP is designed for public access to government documents, citizens are not the only ones using it.

Government departments are having a hard time sharing information internally.

According to Moorlag, a department asked for Public Service Commission documents under ATIPP. The request was refused.

But, before Moorlag could sort out the issue, the department requesting the information backed off.

The question about whether ATIPP applies to government departments is important, he said.

And, in our shoddy legislation, it isn’t clear.

As well, departments have a 30-day time limit to respond to requests — but most of that time is taken up by estimating fees, waiting for a response from the applicant about the cost and deciding whether to waive the fees.

If the applicant takes 28 days to decide to pay, the department has only two days to fulfill the request.

Under our poor legislation, the records manager can’t grant the department an extension because of administrative reasons. That isn’t the case in BC and Alberta, where they stop the 30-day clock while waiting for a response from the applicant.

Another problem is the fact that Moorlag can’t review cases.

If a department decides information doesn’t exist, there’s no appeal process.

You’re simply out of luck.

Clearly, that loophole is appealing if you’re a government that wants to cover stuff up.

Moorlag has also found errors in the existing law.

And the Yukon’s substandard legislation is hindering the government’s ability to participate in national or inter-jurisdictional programs that require strong privacy laws.

For example, Canada Health Infoway has helped create electronic health records so jurisdictions can share patient health records between doctors, nurses and pharmacists.

But you need to guarantee patient privacy.

“Such a framework does not exist in the Yukon,” wrote Moorlag in his 2005 report.

Finally, there are several agencies — the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board, The Yukon Utilities Board, the Yukon Energy Corp. and others — that are in limbo, outside the act’s reach.

“Yukoners are all hamstrung,” said Moorlag. “Where do they go to make access requests of those public bodies?”

Here, a fix isn’t difficult, said Moorlag, noting BC and Alberta have reviewed and improved their legislation several times in the last eight years.

All the Yukon government has to do is decide which public bodies are on schedule A — accessible or not.

Has anything been done?

Nope.

Year after year, Moorlag has brought these, and other problems to Hart’s attention.

The response?

Nothing.

“I certainly don’t receive any formal written response of any kind.”

He’s tried to meet with Hart.

“I’ve been banging on that door for some years now, to provide some clarity and scope to the act.”

Any response?

Nope.

“I’m trying not to take it personally,” said Moorlag.

For four years, the Yukon Party government has ignored a problem it knows exists.

It has done nothing because, apparently, doing something is difficult.

Instead, “we’re going to take advantage of other people’s research,” said Hart, suggesting the Yukon will wait, again, for reviews of ATIPP laws in other jurisdictions.

Why?

“If we continue to wait for the next review to come along, our review is not going to happen at all,” said Moorlag.

And that, we suggest, was Hart’s plan all along.

He’s simply defending the realm. (RM)

Moorlag’s full report is available at www.ombudsman.yk.ca. We recommend you give it a look.

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