10 September 2009

Signing his own death warrant

Newfoundland and Labrador information commissioner Ed Ring is welcoming a  court case that will settle once and for all a dispute with the provincial government over access to government records.

The provincial government is insisting Ring shouldn’t have access to documents as part of his review under the province’s open records law.  That law currently gives Ring the powers of a commissioner under the public inquiries act to compel the delivery of any and all documents he deems relevant to discharging his responsibilities.

Danny Williams disagrees.

Now a judge will get to sort it out.

Of course, those of us who know Ed Ring personally wouldn’t expect anything from him but exactly this thoughtful and responsible discharge of his duties as set out by law.

Let’s just hope that if the judge sides with Ring, the powers that be don’t decide Ring must be replaced with someone considerably more pliable.   it would be a shame that doing his job and speaking his mind wound up being a case of the guy signing the death warrant for his own job.



Anonymous said...

Yeah, perhaps Paul Reynolds would like a change...hmmmm...

One Woman said...

There are many ways for public bodies to withhold responsive records from the Commissioner's review, ways that are more sinister than stating up-front that the Commissioner does not have the right to review certain records and then ask the Court to rule on their decision of withhold them from the Commissioner’s review. One way is to claim that records don’t exist – as has been alleged in relation to the “purple files”.
Another way is simply to conduct a search for responsive records and pull from the file, any records that the public body does not want the Commissioner to review, or as the case may be, pull them from the review of the Court if the applicant has filed an appeal with Trial Division. If and when the public body is caught, they can always claim incompetence in the search.
Access to information is at a crisis point in this Province of openness, transparency and accountability.

Edward G. Hollett said...

True, but we'd all like to hope that there is at least enough ethics and integrity in public servants not to engage is such bullshit action.

That said, there is a very good reason to be highly suspicious of the records management system created since 2003.

It seems designed to frustrate disclosure and to make it easier to destroy or disappear crucial records with approval at the highest levels.

As with briefing notes, we now live in a world where temporary political expediency or personal whim trumps any other consideration.

Future governments and future scholars will have a hard time discovering exactly what happened in the current administration since the records of it will be largely non-existent or unattainable.

Any premier who is so paranoid that he wants to charge 10,000 bucks to keep copies of his speeches out of someone's hands would likely also want to make sure that any records that describe events related to more controversial decisions or issues vanish as if they never existed or are buried under so many obstacles, they couldn't be unearthed with nuclear weapons.

One Woman said...

In relation to the second court action where government has taken the Commissioner to court, how can government prevent an employee from having access to their own personnel file? This is contrary to government’s own policy found in the Human Resources Policy Manuel. There should be no need for an employee to ask to see her own personnel file through an Access request. She should be able to view it as per government’s policy stated below:
Access to Personal Files
Employees can review their personal files at any reasonable time convenient to both the employee and the Employer.
An Employer representative will be present while employees review their own files.
Employees may be accompanied by a representative of their choice when reviewing their personal files.
Employees may authorize, in writing, a union or other representative to review their personal file when the employee is not present.
No original document can be removed or copied from a personal file without the Employer’s permission.
Employees can only review their own personal files.
Ex-employees may have access to their personal files in accordance with the above.
Upon an employee’s death or termination, a personal file remains the property of the Employer.
If government has refused to allow the employee to view her personnel file and she therefore had to submit an ATIPPA request, then it’s obvious that government is completely abusing the process.
Firstly, it is clearly an abuse of process to refuse to allow a government employee (or even ex-employee) to see her own personnel file and secondly, it is further abuse to refuse to allow the Commissioner to review the decision to of government to refuse access.
There is nothing frivolous about an employee asking to see her own personnel file and Minister Marshall’s action against the Commissioner on this file contrary to government’s own policy. It is obvious that government’s motives for going to court on this one are not as presented.