Richard Mostyn, minister of the Department of Highways and Public Works, speaks to media in Whitehorse on May 17. Mostyn said in an interview on Oct. 9 that municipalities would have a choice to subscribe to the new access to information act. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

YG says municipalities will get to choose if they want to be covered under new access and privacy laws

Territorial government could force municipalities but cabinet says it will be voluntary

The Yukon government has the authority to force municipalities to be covered under the new access to information and privacy law, tabled in the legislative assembly last week, if it passes.

But it appears the government has no intention of forcing anyone.

Richard Mostyn, minister of the Department of Highways and Public Works, told the News in an interview Oct. 9 that municipalities would have a choice to subscribe to the act.

“I wanted to make the act flexible to allow municipalities that saw the need to better protect individual privacy or to make more information available to its citizens to come onboard,” Mostyn said.

“Rather than be a senior government dictating terms to a municipality, I wanted to give them the option to come onboard when they’re ready. I think that’s the proper approach.”

In written statement, Janine Workman, cabinet spokesperson confirmed: “There is no intention to apply the ATIPP act to municipalities unless they voluntarily ask to be included.”

The bill, tabled on Oct. 3, is touted as advancing heightened protections to personal information, having less red tape, and making more information openly available to the public.

During a technical briefing on the draft bill on Oct. 5, Jeffrey Sunstrum, senior access and privacy analyst with the Department of Highways and Public Works, told reporters cabinet would have the authority to decide which public body would fall under the act.

“There is now a framework to include municipalities. They could be included as a prescribed entity,” he said, adding that First Nations would be exempt.

Mostyn said that “everything” the government generates would be available to the public under the new act.

“I envision that everything is available to the public except where it’s not,” he said. “This isn’t the government’s information, this is the public’s information.”

Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay wants municipalities to come under the fold of the new act “immediately,” she told the News.

“They’re public bodies, essentially, and citizens should have a right to access their information and to the privacy protections that are in the legislation,” she said.

“(Municipalities) operate on public funding, just like the government is and, as part of the democratic process, citizens should have a right to access the information to see how decisions are being made. That is why access to information laws exist.”

McLeod-McKay has some concerns with the draft bill, one of which is that citizens may have to go to court to access information they have a right to obtain if the government refuses a request.

“That was something I recommended against and gave some options on how to address that particular issue,” McLeod-McKay.

Mostyn said the court of public opinion that plays out in the territory could ensure that residents don’t have to go through the justice system.

“Citizens who have a problem getting information from the government work into the media, long before they go to the courts, and that’s been a very effective means to produce information,” he said.

“The media here has often played an integral role in championing the rights the public has access to information. Before you go to court, there’s often the court of public opinion,” Mostyn said.

Sunstrum said that public bodies beholden to the act would be publicly listed. Specifics of this will be addressed “in the future … when we’re making regulations.”

Regulations would take one to two years to hash out.

Fees, too, will be addressed in the regulations, Sunstrum said.

Mostyn said the associated fees would be predicated on how much labour was completed by civil servants. In certain cases, he continued, an access and privacy officer (a new position) could waive those fees.

The bill proposes to hire an access and privacy officer to replace the records manager. Some of the responsibilities of the role, according to a summary of the act, would entail auditing responses to ensure compliance, making department heads accountable for responding to a request, along with reducing how long a cabinet record is available “in certain cases” from 15 to 10 years.

“We’re trying to make more information without having to go through ATIPP,” Mostyn said. “ATIPP should be an exception not the rule.”

If information was withheld, there is a public override provision, the criteria of which would be weighed by the head of public body to determine what should be released as a matter of public interest, Sunstrum said.

Another provision is to make certain information openly available to the public, which would, Sunstrum said, be assessed on an annual basis to ensure accuracy and that it’s current.

He noted that there’s a timeline of 90 days to publish information in its final form.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-new.com

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