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Yukon Party shuts out ombudsman

The Yukon Party refused to hear from the territory’s ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner.

The Yukon Party refused to hear from the territory’s ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner.

On Thursday, it used its majority to vote down opposition attempts to bring Tracy Anne McPhee into the legislature during debate on Bill 50 — the Child and Family Services Act.

The new act jeopardizes the privacy of Yukoners and gives the Social Services director unprecedented power to collect information, said McPhee.

There’s a “fundamental shift” in privacy policies in the new children’s act, she wrote in an April 18th letter to MLAs.

McPhee did not see a copy of the proposed legislation until it was tabled in the legislature this spring.

The children’s act severely undermines the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPP), wrote McPhee.

NDP Leader Todd Hardy tried to halt debate on the children’s act so parties could analyze McPhee’s concerns.

But Hardy was rebuffed by Yukon Party committee-of-the-whole chair Steve Nordick.

The government defeated Hardy’s motion.

It’s the second time in eight days the Yukon Party has refused attempts to call witnesses during debate on the new children’s act.

Last Thursday, the government voted down a motion to allow Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Andy Carvill and other two other First Nation legal representatives to appear before MLAs.

“I think what this is showing is the need to have witnesses speak to the whole legislative assembly in order for us to make a good decision, a sound decision and get this act right,” said Hardy.

Justice officials are reviewing McPhee’s concerns and Premier Dennis Fentie will provide a response next week, said Social Services Minister Brad Cathers.

“I urge that we move on and continue further review of the clauses of the act,” said Cathers on Thursday.

The ATIPP Act protects personal information and allows the public access to government records.

Some of the ATIPP Act’s protections and provisions will be significantly affected or completely erased if the children’s act passes as it is written, said McPhee.

“Overriding the provision of the ATIPP Act may undermine the public’s confidence in the protection of privacy, the ability to access information, the ability to correct errors and seek independent review,” wrote McPhee.

“(It) may also have the effect of eroding the commitment to open, transparent and accountable government.”

The new Child and Family Services Act, proposes more First Nations involvement in social services and provides for an independent children’s advocate.

It also allows the director to restrict and prohibit access to information regarding the personal history of children or adults involved in proceedings under the new act or former act.

McPhee’s concerns over the director’s power echo those expressed by many Yukon First Nation governments. Most are calling Bill 50 “flawed.”

First Nation leaders say the director would have too much power over their children if the legislation moves forward.

The director will have unprecedented and dangerous powers of collection, use and disclosure of personal information from any government department under the new legislation, wrote McPhee.

“This is a fundamental shift in how personal information flows between government departments, as the director has the right to obtain information without the consent or knowledge of the individual,” she added.

Sections 177 to 179 of the children’s act deal with the director’s ability to disclose information at will.

Under the proposed legislation, those sections are exempt from the ATIPP Act.

The director’s immunity from ATIPP legislation could adversely affect the ombudsman’s ability to access documents for her independent investigations, wrote McPhee.

The director could refuse to give her necessary documents.

But Bill 50 could also restrict individual citizens from accessing personal information.

If the director declines to offer the relevant documents, the individual might have to seek a court order, wrote McPhee.

Bill 50 is in its third and final reading, and Premier Dennis Fentie wants it passed this spring, he said.

First Nations are asking for more time to discuss and improve Bill 50 before the government makes it law.

McPhee also wishes she had more time.

“(My comments) are being provided much later in the process than I would like and in a manner that in my view is not satisfactory,” she wrote.

Discussions with Social Services officials in the fall focused solely on the child advocate and did not touch on privacy issues, she added.