The Other Side of FOIPP Mountain

In a blog post this morning, Green Party of PEI leader Peter Bevan-Baker writes of his party’s struggles with trying to get information about freedom of information. He writes, in part:

Several months later, government tabled their amendments to the FOIPP Act. We felt the amendments fell far short of the promise of “modernizing” the Act.  So during Question Period, my colleague, Hannah Bell, asked the current Minister Responsible, Jordan Brown, how many submissions were received and he replied “The direct answer to that question was over 40 submissions and my recollection is that the good portion of them were similar or greater in length to the submission that was received by the third party.”  Well, that really impressed us, since our submission was 20 pages long and had 21 recommendations. So we asked him to table the responses, which he wouldn’t do, claiming that those who made the submissions did so with the expectation of confidentiality (Pro Tip: When the Office of the Third Party undertakes consultations we inform people in advance that their comments may be made public, and offer them the option to request confidentiality.)

You can probably guess what comes next.  We FOIPPed the submissions, we waited 30 days, we were told that third-party consultations were underway, we waited an additional 30 days, and we received the documents. Imagine our disappointment to discover that in reality none of the submissions “were similar or greater in length” than ours.  The closest was an eight page document that was entirely redacted under sec. 25(1) of the FOIPP Act, so I can’t tell you who it was from or what it was about.

As one of those who make a written submission with my comments about the modernizing of the FOIPP Act, I saw this process from the other side of the mountain; as I outlined here, on June 20, 2018 I received the “third party consultation letter,” to which I replied:

I have no objection to my submission being released.

It is already public and online at:

https://ruk.ca/content/modernize-freedom-information-and-protection-privacy-act

At the time I didn’t know that it was the Green Party that had submitted the FOIPP request; Mr. Bevan-Baker’s blog post closes the loop on this.

I think his suggestion, supported by Green Party practice, of including a “public by default; let us know if you need confidentiality” check for public consultations is a good one. While there are occasionally perfectly valid reasons for requesting to remain anonymous when making contributions to public policy, debate thrives best when it’s in the open, and this should be our default position.