Globe and Mail

Ottawa bent on secrecy, watchdog says

SHAWN McCARTHY
Globe and Mail
Tuesday, October 17, 2000

OTTAWA -- The federal government has a penchant for secrecy that is undermining the democratic process, Information Commissioner John Reid says in a report released yesterday.

Mr. Reid said the key government departments -- including the Prime Minister's Office -- have launched "a full counterattack" against his office which oversees requests under Access to Information laws.

In fact, he said his staff members have been threatened that their public service careers could be jeopardized if they push too aggressively to have departments hand over sensitive documents under Access to Information laws.

"People are treated badly when they are doing investigations. There's been a personalization of the issue in which the staff bears the brunt of the displeasure," Mr. Reid said in an interview.

In his report, Mr. Reid said the government is failing to live up to the spirit of the Access to Information legislation. He said there is a "stubborn persistence of a culture of secrecy in Ottawa."

He said that closed culture undermines democracy by shielding government decision-making from informed criticism and by raising the level of cynicism and mistrust among citizens for the government.

Canadian Alliance MP Monte Solberg criticized the government for its "palpable animosity toward the right of access."

"How can the government say it is committed to openness when the Information Commissioner has so thoroughly condemned the actions of the government?" he demanded in the House of Commons.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan, who has long promised improvements in the law, noted the government announced in August a review of the legislation and the way officials apply the law.

Mr. Reid said he was pleased by the government's review but said he would withhold judgment on it until he sees results.

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