Richard Mostyn, Minister of Highways and Public Works, whispers to Premier Sandy Silver during a sitting of the legislative assembly in November. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Changes coming to ATIPP Act in 2018: Mostyn

‘There’s all sorts of info that the government has that’s stuck in computer systems and filing cabinets’

Changes are coming in 2018 to the ATIPP Act, according to Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn.

Precisely what those changes will be isn’t yet known, but the department will be making recommendations and suggesting amendments in May 2018, at which time there will be a second public consultation. The department has a “fairly aggressive timeline,” to consider making changes to the act, Mostyn said.

The present ATIPP Act is “fairly outdated” and “reflects the world of 1990,” Mostyn said. There are many new things to consider, such as social media and internet privacy, that the current act simply does not adequately address.

“(The Act) is important for us, because we have … online services and things which rely on having good ATIPP rules in place,” he said.

Reforming the act was one of the Liberal Party’s campaign promises. Mostyn said that while they haven’t made any “legislative changes” yet those changes are currently “in the preliminary stages.”

“The culture (of government) itself will have to change and needs to change but that won’t happen overnight.”

The culture of the government has previously been one of “holding tightly onto the information available to them,” he said, something he wants to see “flipped on its ear.”

“Anxiety has been created from a culture of withholding information for a really, really long time,” he said. “In the past, excuses would have been made, an ATIPP would have been made … most of the time the information you are talking about (in an ATIPP) is information people of the Yukon are entitled to have.”

Earlier in 2017, the government conducted a public consultation on the ATIPP act.

Plans for access to information reform come on the heels of a recommendation by Diane McLeod-McKay, the Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, that Environment Yukon release 2,000 pages of documents requested under the act.

The department had withheld nearly 3,000 pages of requested information, claiming it was exempt from ATIPP. The commissioner found that many of those exemptions did not actually apply and that the department had “failed to meet its burden of proof” to withhold the information under the act.

Currently, ATIPP requests are handled within departments by workers who do other jobs, not full-time ATIPP workers. McLeod-McKay said those workers need more training.

“One thing I plan on doing … is to try to train ATIPP coordinators,” she said. “There are individuals with multiple hats. They often have other full time jobs as well.”

In May 2018, the government will propose amendments and changes to the act based on the initial consultation, which will be available for public input, said Heather McKay, a spokesperson for the Department of Highways and Public Works.

Starting this past September, the government has started making all ATIPP requests available for pubic review online. Only the actual requests themselves are available, but a person can now ask to see all the associated information for that request, said McKay.

“They can just say ‘I want all the information associated with request number blah-blah-blah and then get it,” she said.

The identity of the person who made the initial ATIPP request is never revealed, she said.

Mostyn said making data more publicly available to average citizens could have positive social and business benefits.

“There’s all sorts of info that the government has that’s stuck in computer systems and filing cabinets…. Who knows what value and insights will come of (opening them up?)” he said.

“As we unveil more things to the public, I think it could have a lot of value to citizens in the territory.”

While the commissioner can make recommendations, she does not actually have the power to enforce those recommendations if government bodies decide not to comply. The current act “doesn’t deal very well with” enforcement and what recourse to take if a party refuses her recommendations, she said.

Environment Yukon has accepted McLeod-McKay’s recommendations.

“This has been a valuable process to go through. The Department of Environment has accepted the recommendations, and will be applying this additional clarity in our review of future ATIPP requests,” said spokesperson Sophie Best in an email.

Contact Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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