Territory pushes for greater secrecy

The territorial government's plan to keep briefing notes from the public "undermines the spirit" of the territory's access-to-information laws, warns the Yukon's Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The territorial government’s plan to keep briefing notes from the public “undermines the spirit” of the territory’s access-to-information laws, warns the Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The commissioner last week commented in detail on the amendments to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act tabled by the government. He concluded that they would increase restrictions to access to information, and may conflict with other sections of the act.

“I consider this a substantial amendment to the ATIPP Act that would have better been done through a review of the ATIPP Act where all the provisions of the act could be considered and read together and where consequences of the amendment could be better considered,” wrote Commissioner Tim Koepke.

The commissioner’s rejection of the proposed changes runs contrary to statements made in the legislature by Public Works Minister Wade Istchenko.

“We talked to the information and privacy commissioner about this. He had some concerns and issues we addressed with him,” he said on Nov. 6.

“The proposed amendment is very narrow,” said Istchenko on Nov 8. “In fact, specific and limited, as recommended by the (commissioner).”

While the commissioner may well have suggested that any amendments be specific and limited, it is clear that he does not agree that the proposed amendments fit that description.

Koepke took issue in particular with the government’s proposed move from restricting access to certain types of information to exempting certain kinds of documents in their entirety.

“I oppose provisions in the ATIPP Act where the right of access is being removed for classes of records,” he wrote.

Ontario and Saskatchewan are the only jurisdictions that require a public body to refuse access to a record, according to Koepke.

In those provinces, an exception can be granted where consent is given by a proper authority. In most jurisdictions, an exception can also be granted in cases of overriding public interest.

The Yukon has proposed no such exceptions.

The commissioner also commented that restricting access to consultations or deliberations “relating to the making of government decision or the formulation of government policy,” as has been proposed, has no precedent in Canada and could conflict with other provisions in the act.

The government has also proposed to repeal a clause specifying that a public body must not refuse to disclose “any factual information.”

The commissioner commented that “there may be no reason to remove this paragraph,” and that the addition of a definition of “factual material,” as has been done in Alberta, would bring clarity to what is covered by this section.

Istchenko repeatedly defended the proposed changes by reminding the legislative assembly that the intention of the act is to provide both access to information and protection of privacy.

When NDP MLA Jan Stick questioned the minister as to whose privacy the proposed changes were intended to protect, he chose his words carefully.

“I said yesterday, and I’ll say again today, it’s about the protection of information,” said Istchenko.

The NDP has called on Istchenko to apologize to the commissioner and to the Yukoners who were misled by his comments.

“And after he apologizes, he should withdraw these wrongheaded, backwards proposals to limit access to government information and weaken our democracy,” said Stick.

Yukon fails species at risk

The Yukon received a failing grade on laws designed to protect species at risk.

An Ecojustice report ranked Canadian jurisdictions on the strength of their laws protecting endangered plants and animals.

British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan also received an F.

NDP MLA Kate White brought this report to the attention of the legislative assembly yesterday.

She reminded the Yukon government that, in the past, it has said that it can rely on federal legislation to ensure species at risk are protected.

The Yukon has no dedicated species at risk legislation, but offers some protections for certain animals under the Wildlife Act.

The federal government, however, only received a C minus for its laws protecting species at risk.

“With the ongoing cuts in Ottawa and the watering down of species at risk legislation, how can the minister tell this house and the Yukon public that Yukon species at risk are well protected?” asked White.

Environment Minister Currie Dixon responded that collaboration between federal and territorial governments continues to work to protect vulnerable species.

“The federal government helps with identifying species at risk, and the Yukon government provides input when it comes to the development of management plans and the implementation of management plans for species at risk,” he said.

Yukon earned its failing grade for not having designated species at risk laws, for only protecting five species under the Wildlife Act, for excluding plants, fish, and invertebrates from the Wildlife Act, and for not having any recovery strategies for vulnerable species.

The report pointed out that Baikal sedge, a rare plant species found in the Yukon, is listed as threatened under federal law, but is offered no protection under territorial legislation.

The plant is found, among other places, in the Carcross desert, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper stopped for an ATV ride and photo-op during his visit this summer.

MLAs fight for Arctic

Winter Games athletes

Yukon politicians agree that the 2016 Arctic Winter Games in Greenland should include the sports of speedskating, figure skating, curling, gymnastics, midget hockey and dog mushing.

A motion was passed unanimously in the legislative assembly last week to support Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor in her efforts to work with other northern governments towards a solution.

The motion was put forward by Independent MLA Darius Elias.

The Arctic Winter Games International Committee announced in September that those six sports would not be included due to lack of facilities. Greenland does not have an arena for sports requiring an ice surface.

When Greenland hosted the games in 2002, they co-hosted with Iqaluit, and athletes were flown to their events.

But for 2016, only some hockey events will be hosted in Iqaluit. The rest of the ice sports are being left out.

It just costs too much to fly the athletes from Greenland to Nunavut and back again, said Gerry Thick, president of the Arctic Winter Games International Committee.

Taylor met with other politicians and international committee members in October to explore options to include more sports in the games, according to a press release.

“The unanimous consent of Yukon legislators recognizes the importance of the Arctic Winter Games to all Yukoners and strengthens the international effort to find a creative solution,” said Taylor.

“The Arctic Winter Games were originally established to give our athletes a multi-sport games experience that would allow them to take the next step in their athletic careers. For many of them, their experiences at the Arctic Winter Games have led to success at international competitions and a life-long enjoyment of sport. Our next generation of athletes deserves the same opportunity.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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