Yukon government releases scathing review of access to information laws

Yukon’s new minister of highways and public works says there are “all sorts of problems” with the territory’s current access-to-information legislation.

Yukon’s new minister of highways and public works says there are “all sorts of problems” with the territory’s current access-to-information legislation.

The government released an unflattering assessment of the Yukon’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act this week that found the legislation allows for “overly broad restrictions of access to information.”

It also concluded that it’s difficult for people to access their own personal information under the current system.

“The (ATIPP) Act does not work,” Richard Mostyn told the News on Thursday. “I don’t think it’s working well for the department. I don’t think it’s working well for anybody.”

Mostyn said the government doesn’t have the tools it needs to manage people’s personal information properly. The report found that although individuals have the right to access their own information, the definition of personal information is so broad that it’s difficult to know what it means.

It can also be challenging for people to find their own information, because requests have to be directed to individual departments.

“This means that applicants must understand how government is structured and in which department the information they seek is held,” the report reads.

Moreover, it can be difficult for people to keep track of which departments have their personal information.

“Members of the public are unable to verify what their information is being used for and that it is accurate,” the report reads. It goes on to say that unless people can remember what information they’ve given to each public body, they “cannot reasonably hope to find all the personal information that government holds.”

The report includes public comments submitted last summer. Many respondents voiced similar concerns about accessing and managing their own information.

“Information sharing between departments would mean increased efficiency,” one person wrote.

“Departments should stop working in silos,” wrote another.

Mostyn said the comments show that the public mood regarding access-to-information legislation is “grim.”

“People have clearly stated the law does not work for them,” he said. “And we’ve pledged to fix it and we’re going to fix it.”

The report also found that “overly broad restrictions” to access to information can damage trust “in the transparency and accountability of the government.”

Currently, the government has broad discretion over what information can be redacted from responses to access-to-information requests.

The report suggests that a “proactive disclosure program” could help to improve transparency by releasing information before it’s requested. Similar programs exist in other jurisdictions.

Mostyn said the new Liberal government wants “to make sure that we’re only redacting or withholding very specific information and making most of it available.”

The report didn’t include specific recommendations, but referred to recommendations made by the Yukon’s information and privacy commissioner, Diane McLeod-McKay.

She has called for access-to-information legislation to be applied to Yukon municipalities, not just the territorial government. She also wants the Yukon to implement a public interest override. That would allow information to be released that might ordinarily be withheld, if it’s in the public’s interest. She has also called for her office to be given more power to investigate complaints.

McLeod-McKay was unavailable to comment on the results of the report this week.

The Yukon government plans to present possible amendments to the ATIPP Act for public review in 2017.

Mostyn didn’t give much detail about what those amendments might be. But he said that as a former journalist — Mostyn is the former editor of this newspaper — he believes in the need for more transparency.

“I think information wants to be free, and I think we have to make it available to people,” he said. “I think society’s better served when they have access to more information than less.”

Contact Maura Forrest at maura.forrest@yukon-news.com

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