Ryan Leef, Member of Parliament for Yukon
When the Canadian Access to Information Act came into force under Prime Minister Trudeau in 1983, it was considered the most progressive model for freedom of information legislation in the world. The Protection of Privacy Act, companion legislation, ensures that individuals' rights to privacy are not compromised by public access to information. The two Acts are, together, referred to as ATIP.
Under ATIP, the public is guaranteed timely access to information relating to all government business.
After falsified documents were given to an information request during the Somalia Affair in 1998, ATIP was amended. The summery to Bill C- 208 states, "This enactment provides sanctions against any person who improperly destroys or falsifies government records in an attempt to deny right of access to information under the Access to Information Act."
Nevertheless, since Trudeau, all governments have gradually eroded the powers of ATIP. Increasingly, various government agencies have invaded the privacy of citizens. Increasingly, successive governments have evaded requests for accountability and transparency.
In 2010, the Harper Conservative government demonstrated its contempt for access to information legislation by refusing to release un-redacted documents pertaining to the fate of the Afghan detainees and any documents pertaining to the cost of their new "tough on crime" policies.
Bill C-19, Ending the Long Gun Registry Act (ELRA), became law on April 5, 2012. All long-gun registry records were to be destroyed.
But a prior access to information request was made for long-gun registry records in March of that year. And under law, ATIP took precedent over ELRA. Then Public Safety Minister Vic Toews assured Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault that the records would not be destroyed until the access to information request had been honoured. However, the records were destroyed anyway. Documents show that the RCMP knew that destroying the long-gun registry records, at that time, was improper. CTV has reported that the Conservative government pressured the RCMP to speed up destruction of the long-gun registry records.
The Information Commissioner asked the Ontario Provincial Police to investigate the RCMP.
The Harper government is infinitely resourceful. The powers of ELRA will be backdated to when the legislation was tabled in 2011, rather than when it passed. Buried deep within the most recent ominous budget bill, Bill C-59, is a section which retroactively makes that which was illegal, no longer illegal.
Here is a list of the items included in Bill C-59 with regard to the Ending the Long-Gun Registry Act.
- Non-application -- Library and Archives of Canada Act
- Non-application -- Access to Information Act
- Non-application -- Privacy Act ((To do with the proper disposal of personal records.)
- Non-application of other federal Acts
- No liability -- destruction (of long-gun registry records)
The following describes who is not to be held responsible for the premature destruction of public records and casts it in concrete.
"No Liability -- access to information and privacy. (2) No administrative, civil or criminal proceedings lie against the Crown, a Crown servant, the Commissioner of Firearms or a chief firearms officer, a government institution or the head of a government institution, or any person acting on behalf of acting under the direction of any of them, for any act or omission done, during the period ending on October 25, 2011 and ending on the day on which this subsection comes into force, in purported compliance with the Access to Information Act or the Privacy Act in relation to any of the records and copies referred to in subsections 29(1) and (2)."
The prime minister calls this time-related problem with ATIP and ELRA a mere "loophole." Conservatives call criticism of their latest legislative manoeuvrings an attempt to bring back the long-gun registry. But Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault calls retroactively changing the law "a dangerous precedent."
As Commissioner Legault has pointed out, the sponsorship scandal could have been avoided had the Liberal government tried and succeeded in passing legislation to undermine ATIP through similar legislation. If Bill C-59 passes un-amended, future sitting governments and public institutions will be able to avoid scrutiny and possible criminal prosecution.
Stand up for law and order, Ryan. Demand the removal of Division 18, Ending the Long Gun Registry Act from Bill C-59.
Linda Leon is not now, nor has she ever been, a member of any federal political party. Letters to Ryan Leef are published monthly in the Whitehorse Daily Star and rabble.ca.
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