The Yukon government is cherry-picking which information laws should be reviewed.
That flies in the face of what the territorial government has promised for four years: a comprehensive review of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
In November, 2004, Glenn Hart, then minister responsible for the act, promised full consultation during a review of the act.
The act is “like Swiss cheese — full of holes,” Hart said on May 12, 2005.
In May, 2006, Hart abandoned the review, calling it too complex and hard.
Now two years later, the review is underway again.
But it’s not the long-promised “full consultation.”
Instead, a limited number of stakeholders, such as First Nations, municipalities and school councils have been asked to comment on eight questions put forward by government.
Local media are also listed as stakeholders.
The current review is “inadequate,” said Tracy-Anne McPhee, the Yukon’s information and privacy commissioner.
Among the review’s shortcomings is that it leaves McPhee largely out of the loop.
She is simply listed as a stakeholder.
As the person in charge of enforcing the ATIPP act, she expected to be involved in setting the scope of the consultation.
Her office has called for a full review of the act since 2000. Its annual reports have included a 14-point list of suggested changes to the act.
Between her office’s recommendations and the government’s own, “there’s only a few that overlap,” said McPhee.
The questions being posed by government are largely “housekeeping” measures, or serve the government’s own interests, said McPhee.
A proper review would allow the public — rather than specific stakeholders — to comment more broadly on how effective the act is, and how it could be made better, she said.
“I’m not suggesting it needs to be a full, public, travelling show,” she said.
But a “broader, comprehensive” approach is needed to give the act “the full modernization that’s required.
“For many years, the government said it won’t make any specific changes because they want to do a comprehensive review,” said McPhee. “And that is not, now, what they have decided to do.”
Other jurisdictions that have conducted similar reviews have put their information commissioner on an advisory committee for the decision makers, “so they get a balanced perspective,” said McPhee.
There is one bright spot in the review: among the proposed changes is an expansion of what public bodies are required to comply with the act.
Public bodies currently beyond the reach of the ATIPP Act include the Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board, Yukon Energy Corporation, Whitehorse General Hospital and Yukon College. Municipal governments are also exempt.
Elsewhere in the country, it is common for such institutions to be included under an ATIPP act, the consultation document states.
Why does this matter?
McPhee points to the hospital as an example. Hospitals across the country are beginning to share patient health records with one another through an electronic database called Health Infoway, she said.
The ATIPP Act places restrictions on how public institutions collect, use or store your personal information.
But, as is the case with the Whitehorse hospital, “if they’re not subject to the ATIPP Act, those laws don’t apply to them,” said McPhee.
Also, a proper review would make the government more open and transparent — which is the stated purpose of the legislation, McPhee has repeatedly stated in her annual reports.
It’s important that the government gets its ATIPP review right, said McPhee, because “it’ll be a long time before it’s revisited again.”
McPhee stresses that she plans to co-operate with the government during the review.
“I’m certainly prepared to participate,” she said.