An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.

Sponsor

Scott Brison  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Access to Information Act to, among other things,

(a) authorize the head of a government institution, with the approval of the Information Commissioner, to decline to act on a request for access to a record for various reasons;

(b) authorize the Information Commissioner to refuse to investigate or cease to investigate a complaint that is, in the Commissioner’s opinion, trivial, frivolous or vexatious or made in bad faith;

(c) clarify the powers of the Information Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner to examine documents containing information that is subject to solicitor-client privilege or the professional secrecy of advocates and notaries or to litigation privilege in the course of their investigations and clarify that the disclosure by the head of a government institution to either of those Commissioners of such documents does not constitute a waiver of those privileges or that professional secrecy;

(d) authorize the Information Commissioner to make orders for the release of records or with respect to other matters relating to requesting or obtaining records and to publish any reports that he or she makes, including those that contain any orders he or she makes, and give parties the right to apply to the Federal Court for a review of the matter;

(e) create a new Part providing for the proactive publication of information or materials related to the Senate, the House of Commons, parliamentary entities, ministers’ offices, government institutions and institutions that support superior courts;

(f) require the designated Minister to undertake a review of the Act within one year after the day on which this enactment receives royal assent and every five years afterward;

(g) authorize government institutions to provide to other government institutions services related to requests for access to records; and

(h) expand the Governor in Council’s power to amend Schedule I to the Act and to retroactively validate amendments to that schedule.

It amends the Privacy Act to, among other things,

(a) create a new exception to the definition of “personal information” with respect to certain information regarding an individual who is a ministerial adviser or a member of a ministerial staff;

(b) authorize government institutions to provide to other government institutions services related to requests for personal information; and

(c) expand the Governor in Council’s power to amend the schedule to the Act and to retroactively validate amendments to that schedule.

It also makes consequential amendments to the Canada Evidence Act and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 18, 2019 Passed Motion respecting Senate amendments to Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Dec. 6, 2017 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Dec. 5, 2017 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Nov. 27, 2017 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts
Sept. 27, 2017 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5 p.m.
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Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, I would like to ask my colleague from Winnipeg a very simple question. He alluded to it during his remarks of just a few moments ago. It seems that Canadians have been misled in the intentions of the Liberal government with its stated purpose of improving access to information when in fact, what we know now about the details of Bill C-58 demonstrates quite clearly that it is more difficult right now for the average Canadian to access information from the current government. I would like to hear my colleague expound a bit about why he thinks that is and what might be done to try to improve this badly flawed bill.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my good friend and colleague from Edmonton West.

All through today's debate, I kept reflecting on an old proverb that we have all heard many times before, that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The government at one point in time actually had some good intentions about reforming the Access to Information Act. At one time, the Liberals might have been genuine when they said they wanted to improve the Access to Information Act, but somewhere along the line on that road, something went terribly wrong because the bill we have before us now, Bill C-58, is far more regressive and prohibitive to Canadians seeking to access the government's information than any access to information bill before its time.

I should say at the outset that I believe that over the last 34 years, ATIPs have proven to be extremely helpful to Canadians. Clearly they have been helpful to politicians who are trying to find out more information about the government of the day, particularly opposition politicians. These access to information requests have also been extremely helpful to journalists, because we have seen over the last number of years journalists break stories about some unethical action of the government of the day. Has that improved the ability of Canadians to learn more about their government? It certainly has.

Now Bill C-58 tends to want to reverse some of the strides that may have been made over the past several years. One of those strides was made by our government, when we were in power, to reduce the amount of money it cost the average Canadian to file an access to information request. We reduced that to $5, meaning that any Canadian who wanted to get more information about a government department could fill out a form and with only a $5 fee, receive an answer from the government department they were querying. That was a good thing and one of the things that helped Canadians become more comfortable with their own government.

However, ATIPs have been invaluable not just to Canadians, to politicians, and to journalists, but also to society as a whole because they have allowed Canadians to learn more about their government in a fashion that gives them confidence in the government of the day. We know of many ATIPs that have been successful and have been newsworthy. The one that most Canadians recall was the sponsorship scandal. It is ironic that we are debating Bill C-58 today, because the sponsor of the bill was, in the early 2000s, a minister in the Liberal cabinet, I believe as minister of public works, who day after day during question period had to stand and defend his government against opposition attacks as we found out more information from the Gomery commission and its investigation.

I recall vividly, as some of my colleague will too, the minister of the then public works department standing and saying in response to opposition questions, “Let Justice Gomery do his work.” That was his standard talking point. He would not answer any direct questions. He would simply say let Justice Gomery do his work. At the end of the day, Justice Gomery did fine work because he exposed the ethical shortcomings of the Liberal government of the day. He exposed the rampant corruption within that government and, frankly, the stench of that corruption stays with me today because I recall how the government abused the trust of the Canadian people when it came to the sponsorship scandal, particularly how Liberal ministers ignored the very fact that their own party operatives were charging for work that was never done and pocketing the money themselves, to benefit themselves financially.

How did we find out about that corruption? It was through an ATIP, through one reporter, Daniel Leblanc, who studiously examined what he thought was a corrupt system in the Quebec government of the day and started asking questions.

Finally, his request for information was answered. That was the start of the sponsorship scandal.

The point I make today is simply this. If the changes proposed by the government on Bill C-58 are enacted, reporters like Daniel Leblanc and others who expose such clear wrongdoing by the government would be the unable to access that information. That is simply wrong. That should never be allowed to happen. Any government, whether it be a Liberal government, a Conservative government, a New Democratic government, or any government in this country, should not be allowed to deny access to Canadians about information of their government.

We all know that governments are a servant of the people. We serve the public. We are supposed to be serving the public's interest. The public's interest in this case will be denied simply because we have a government that is embarrassed about some of its previous ethical lapses and frankly wants to cover them up. I can only point to the most recent example of what might happen if Bill C-58 is passed in its current form, and that is with the most ethical transgressions by the Minister of Finance.

We know now, thanks to an ATIP from reporters at The Globe and Mail, what the current Minister of Finance was hiding from Canadians and from the Ethics Commissioner. We know now, thanks to an ATIP, that the current Minister of Finance had a villa in France that he did not disclose to the Ethics Commissioner for two years, a villa that we can only assume is worth in the millions of dollars because of its locale in one of the wealthier regions of southern France.

We know now, because of an ATIP, that the same Minister of Finance had a numbered company in Alberta that was not disclosed to the Ethics Commissioner. It contained approximately $20 million in shares in a company called Morneau Shepell, which the Minister of Finance formerly used to run, a family-founded, family-run, very successful company, that had obvious direct ties to the Minister of Finance. We know that now, because reporters, journalists, requested access to information that uncovered those ethical transgressions.

If Bill C-58 is adopted, those opportunities will be lost. That should not be allowed to happen. Governments must be accountable for their actions. Governments must be accountable to the public. One of the ways to ensure that it is accountable is by allowing the public, whether it be opposition politicians, journalists, or advocacy groups, to gain information from their government without fear of retribution and without fear of censorship.

Bill C-58 is so desperately flawed that Canadians who have been examining this legislation and listening to this debate must feel that they have no more confidence in the government. In fact, what Bill C-58 does is to make information unavailable to Canadians should the government determine that it does not want to release what it considers to be sensitive information. That is right. It is not up to the government to release information upon request. The government feels that it is within its purview to deny information if it feels it might embarrass them, if it feels that the information is not in its best political interest. That is not only shameful, it is offensive, and should not be allowed to happen.

I know that my comments are falling on deaf ears when it comes to speaking to members opposite, but I beseech them to reconsider this flawed bill, take it back to the starting board, and if it truly wants to make access to information a reality, redraft and redraw this bill.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, once again, the parliamentary secretary to the government House leader is trying to defend the indefensible. The reality is that contained in Bill C-58 is a provision that states the government determines whether or not it will give answers to an access to information request, and in what form. If the government feels that the request is either vexatious, frivolous, or made in bad faith, it does not have to answer. If it does answer, it can redact as much of the information that it feels is necessary. That is not true access to information, that is censorship. The member opposite knows it, and his government knows it. Shame on them for bringing forth a bill that is so regressive that most Canadians, should they understand the content of this bill, would rebel. I again ask the Liberals to do what is right for once in their lives, and to bring this bill back to the drawing board and redraft it. It needs a complete rework and overhaul.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Conservative Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, SK

Madam Speaker, my colleague and friend from Regina—Lewvan is quite right. He and I, and my colleague from Edmonton West, sit on the government operations committee. We heard compelling testimony from whistle-blowers who felt they were being let down by their government because the information they would bring forward to expose wrongdoing within the government was falling on deaf ears. In fact, it was even worse. Sometimes they came with stories about being punished for bringing forward these legitimate exposés of government wrongdoing, and in some cases outright corruption.

Will changes in Bill C-58 help or hinder those who expose wrongdoing in the government? Quite clearly, it would hinder the ability of public servants to come forward. That is just one of many examples I can put forward in this place to demonstrate quite clearly how flawed Bill C-58 actually is.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Moose Jaw—Lake Centre—Lanigan, a lovely resort town, for sharing his time with me. W.C. Fields was famous for his comment about not wanting to work with children and animals because they showed him up. Following his speech, I feel the same way.

I am pleased to speak on Bill C-58 today, which would amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. I also call it another broken Liberal promise hidden behind talking points peppered with key words like “open by default”, “transparency”, “historic”, and “whole of government”, but that is just the working title. I threw in “whole of government”, because Liberals use that for every other bill, so I figured why not this one as well.

The last time I spoke about this bill, I mentioned how it demonstrates the lofty rhetoric of the 2015 campaign on the Liberals' plan for openness, transparency, and accountability, and it was just that: rhetoric. Rhetoric is defined as, “Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect” on its audience, but “often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.” That is pretty much what we have with this bill.

The Liberals defended their poorly thought-out bill by saying they were open to amendments. The Treasury Board president appeared before committee and repeated his intention a few times, and then realized that repeating this again and again does not make it true, much like “open by default”. It is shameful that the Liberals continue to talk about being open to amending their terrible legislation, but when the opportunity presents itself to make decent changes, the Liberals almost always shut them down.

This bill has been roundly ridiculed by experts, and what is the Treasury Board president's defence? He likes to say this is the first reform in over 34 years. This is a laughable excuse. One cannot defend bad actions by saying that at least it is an action, but that is the minister's key talking point. It is a lot like the executives of Coca-Cola sitting around an office table, talking about the recipe for Coke, and saying they have not amended it for 35 years or 100 years, so rather than broadly consulting for modifications to the formula, they launch an entirely new brand. Some of my colleagues in the House do not remember new Coke, but I can speak from experience that it did not work out very well.

The minister goes on about the virtues of his work by saying that, for the first time, Liberals are making government open by default, except that they are limiting it to sanitized briefing books and mandate letters that even the Liberal government has shown no intention of following. When faced with public outcry over their ruthless willingness to abandon their principles and promises in favour of whatever is politically convenient, the Liberals refuse to own up to their shameless actions with openness and transparency, but rather, mislead, re-profile, re-label, or try to change the story.

The minister then repeatedly touts the new powers given to the Information Commissioner. He repeats this point so often because it is probably the only positive point of the bill. The minister seems to have stopped listening after that point, and conveniently forgets that the commissioner herself is one of the harshest critics of the bill. Specifically, she said:

After studying the Bill, I have concluded that the proposed amendments to the Access to Information Act will not advance government transparency. The proposed Bill fails to deliver on the government’s promises. If passed, it would result in a regression of existing rights.

That statement is on her website, plain for everyone to see. Perhaps the minister should read it.

The person charged with carrying out and overseeing access to information considers this bill “regressive”, but like many things, because the commissioner's statement is counter to the Liberal message of the day, she does not need to be listened to, it seems. This is ironic. In defending their unending parade of scandals to members in this place, the Liberals claim to hold independent officers of Parliament in the highest regard. I can think of nothing more disrespectful than claiming to agree with the Information Commissioner, but then ignoring her thoughts on this disastrous legislation.

Let us talk about some of the problems with the current system. Timely access to information is key to a well-functioning democracy. If an access to information request takes months or even years to fulfill, the government has failed in its responsibility to be accessible. This legislation would not prevent requests from taking months or even years to be completed, but, amazingly enough, enables the process to take even longer.

I am an avid user of the Access to Information Act. In the two years since being elected, I have submitted over 60 ATIP requests. Take my word for it when I say that the Liberal government is unbearably slow in responding to ATIP requests. As I mentioned, since elected, I have filed over 60 requests, and only half of them have been completed. Some were filed in March of 2016 and remain outstanding over 20 months later.

I am now coming up to my second anniversary of this outstanding ATIP, and apparently cotton is the gift for second anniversaries. I am out looking for something to celebrate the two years outstanding for that ATIP.

Other requests include October 19, 2016, 18 months outstanding; September 2, 2016, 14 months outstanding; two filed at the very beginning of this year, almost a year old now; and April 6, 2017, 10 months outstanding. We also have over 24 ATIPs outstanding that were filed over half a year ago. For reference, I gave the same numbers the first time I spoke to Bill C-58 back in September. My office has not received a single one of them back yet.

The government promised to be better, set a gold standard, and exceed it by a mile. Exceed it? It has not even left the starting blocks.

What is the government's response to this? It wants to give heads of government institutions the ability to decline requests on the basis they are vexatious or made in bad faith. Who is going to define vexatious? Who is going to ensure the government heads are not declining requests that are vexatious to the government or departments because they would embarrass them and are in fact requests for information the public needs to know, such as our ATIPs on the Phoenix issue, which showed very clearly that the government was told two months before it pulled the trigger on Phoenix to clear the backlog before going ahead, which it ignored. Under these rules about vexatious requests, the department would have been able to cover that off.

Another ATIP we had on Phoenix had the CFOs from every single government operation, Transport, Public Services, Agriculture, Finance, and Revenue, all stating very clearly not to go ahead with it, that the training and testing were not done. The government went ahead. Again, without access to information, we would not have found this.

We asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board if ministers would be able to decline requests using the same clause. She said that she could not confirm that ministers would not have that power. This is ridiculous. Apparently, the government itself is stating that it will decide what is vexatious. I have no doubt it will use these new, poorly defined, and inadequately described powers to declare as much as it can to be vexatious or in bad faith.

“Never fear”, the Liberals would say. If a person disagrees with the Liberal denial, he or she can appeal to the commissioner or go to the courts. However, as we have heard repeatedly in this place, the court system is so bogged down with cases and understaffed by qualified judges, almost exclusively because the government is unwilling or unable to fill these roles. Because of that, we are now letting accused murderers off the hook. Imagine how tied up our courts will be when we add in all the appeals on DWI because of impairment for pot. We know we do not have a valid and proper way to measure impairment.

My point is that the system of denial, appeal, denial, appeal could take a process, which already takes upward of 18 months or more and counting, two years. It could take three years or perhaps four years. The beauty of the legislation for the government is that there is no upper limit on the timelessness. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the public and opposition do not see beauty in this.

The government claims that it is ensuring it is open by default, and we know this is patently false. Open by default would include setting an upper limit, which the government would then release the requested information. This legislation ensures that the government can continue moving the upper limit as long as is politically convenient.

The Liberal government talks about all the published mandate letters. How does publishing mandate letters force the government to keep its promises? We remember the mandate letters referring to debt and deficit. That was in the finance minister's mandate letter, which was blown off. The electoral reform promise was in the democratic institutions minister's mandate letter, which was blown off. The promise to complete an open competition for fighter jets was blown off.

There is one mandate the minister can keep, which is to perhaps mess up the procurement, create a trade fight with Boeing and the U.S., and then further subsidize Bombardier.

What about the promise to modify the Access to Information Act and Privacy Act? That is also in the Treasury Board's mandate letter, and is also a failure.

John Ivison from the National Post sums it up very well. He said, “It’s a farce, and... [the minister] has been around long enough to know the changes he’s just unveiled will not make the slightest difference to helping citizens understand the government for which they pay so richly.”

This is it. Apart from a few minor amendments, the legislation has done nothing to meet the campaign promise of the Liberals.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
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NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Madam Speaker, I have to say that it is good to have the Conservatives onside in opposing Bill C-58, which rolls back access to information and would do nothing to eliminate delays.

However, being the festive season and to be charitable, I will say that the member for Edmonton West was not here in Parliament from 2006 to 2015 when the Conservative government did not take this issue seriously and did nothing to improve it. I know that the member was not here in 2011 when the Harper government got the lowest mark possible from Canadian journalists for free expression on access to information, which was an F.

I am being charitable to the member, because he was not here. I am glad to have the Conservatives onside, in some kind of conversion on the road to opposition from the Conservatives here, but, in this Parliament, if the bill is so bad, why did the Conservatives present zero amendments in committee?

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I wish I had sat on that committee. It would perhaps have given me a break from explaining all the issues on Phoenix which the Liberals have inflicted on Canadians. I was not part of the committee, and I was not aware, but very clearly presenting amendments, just like the NDP did, would have had absolutely no effect. The minister made it very clear from the beginning that this was the world's greatest proposed law, which would bring in changes to access to information. The government would brook no advice or changes from anyone else. Why we did not, I am not sure, but it would have made no difference.

However, another colleague talked about the whistle-blower act. My party, together with the NDP and Liberals in the government operations committee, put through a unanimous report to protect whistle-blowers, presenting a lot of great suggestions on how we can make amendments and legislative changes to improve it. However, the same President of the Treasury Board, who shot down all the amendments in the committee on Bill C-58, took the whistle-blower suggestions and put them in the dustbin with all the other great amendments that were suggested by the NDP and other parties on the Access to Information Act.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

December 5th, 2017 / 5:35 p.m.
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NDP

Erin Weir NDP Regina—Lewvan, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to once again speak to Bill C-58, but it is a bit disappointing to have to make some of the same criticisms of it that we on the opposition side have been making throughout. Notwithstanding some of the comments we have heard from the government, the bill actually has not been significantly amended and many of the original problems with it persist.

I would like to address this legislation in terms of three headings: first, the scope of the act; second, exceptions to the act; and third, the difference between proactive disclosure and access to information.

In terms of the scope of the bill, it is important to note that the Liberals were elected on a promise to extend access to information to the Prime Minister's Office and to the offices of other cabinet ministers. Bill C-58 would not do that. It is really part of a litany of broken promises by the government. Here we think of electoral reform. We think of the promise to close the stock option tax loophole. We think of the promise to restore door-to-door mail delivery. The government is building up quite a track record of broken promises and, unfortunately, the commitment to extend access to information to cabinet ministers, including the Prime Minister, is another one of those broken promises.

I had an opportunity at the committee on access to information, privacy and ethics to ask the Privacy Commissioner whether there were any privacy reasons that the government could not extend access to information to those cabinet offices. He confirmed that there were no such privacy reasons and that as far he was concerned, it would have been and would be feasible to extend access to information to the offices of cabinet ministers. Our first major disappointment with the scope of the bill is the fact that it fails to extend access to information to the very cabinet offices the government promised to include.

The second heading I would like to address is exceptions to the act. There are already exceptions related to cabinet confidences and policy advice to ministers. These exceptions have proven to be quite troublesome, because it is easy for the government to define almost anything as policy advice to a minister or as somehow being subject to a cabinet confidence. It is a very broad-sweeping exception that the government can use to not disclose information. Unfortunately, Bill C-58 would not correct this exception.

The really bad thing about Bill C-58 is that it creates new exceptions that would allow the government to not disclose information that citizens are requesting. In particular, it empowers the government to deem that an access to information request is frivolous or in bad faith. It is difficult to put government officials in the position of having to try to define the motivations of people making access to information requests. This is a very poor criterion on which to accept or deny access to information requests.

What is this really all about? The example we heard from a couple of different government members throughout this debate is the case of “an ex-spouse [who] ATIPs his or her former spouse's work hours on a daily basis or their emails”. There is obviously a problem with that type of request, but the way to respond to that is through proper protections of privacy, not by deeming the request itself to be frivolous or in bad faith. It is obviously the case that the government cannot disclose certain information for privacy reasons, and the privacy protections need to be very robust in federal legislation.

However, the idea of protecting privacy is not a justification for giving the government broad, sweeping powers to deem that particular access to information requests are frivolous or in bad faith. We do need to have proper protections for privacy, but those in no way justify the new exceptions introduced in Bill C-58, which try to get into the motivation behind an access to information request, which is a very difficult thing for the government to ascertain, and a very difficult thing for citizens to trust the government to ascertain in an objective and proper way.

The third aspect of the legislation that I would like to address is the difference between proactive disclosure on the one hand and access to information on the other hand, because of course one of the aspects of Bill C-58, which the government touts, is the notion of increased proactive disclosure. We have the idea, for example, that the government will proactively disclose ministerial briefing books. A cynic might suggest that this provision will to result in government officials and ministers' assistants spending time drafting briefing books for public consumption. Knowing they will be proactively disclosed, they will just prepare documents that they are happy to have disclosed and that do not really contain a lot of sensitive or controversial information. We are very concerned about that, but even if we assume that would not happen and that everything would be done entirely in good faith, we still have to face up to the fact that proactive disclosure, as positive as it might be, is no substitute for access to information.

Proactive disclosure is about the government choosing to disclose certain things. On the whole, it is good for the government to proactively disclose more documents, but access to information is fundamentally about citizens being able to request information that the government does not want to disclose and does not think it should have to disclose. There is a very important distinction to be made here between proactive disclosure, which is a good thing and the government is touting, and access to information, which is what the bill is supposed to be about.

To sum it all up, I would like to conclude by reading a quote from the Information Commissioner's report on Bill C-58 entitled “Failing to Strike the Right Balance for Transparency”. She said:

In short, Bill C-58 fails to deliver. The government promised the bill would ensure the Act applies to the Prime Minister's and Ministers' Offices appropriately. It does not.

The government promised the bill would apply appropriately to administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts. It does not.

The government promised the bill would empower the Information Commissioner to order the release of government information. It does not.

Rather than advancing access to information rights, Bill C-58 would instead result in a regression of existing rights.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ActPrivate Members' Business

December 5th, 2017 / 6:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou for bringing forward his private member's bill, Bill C-262. I note his important contribution to the discussion on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I would also like to share my profound respect for my colleague and acknowledge the important work he has done over many years that has significantly impacted indigenous policy in this country.

Before addressing the private member's bill, I would like to make a general observation. Section 35 of our Constitution and Canada's existing laws has in the past, and will in the future, ensure that indigenous rights are protected in Canada. We only need to reflect on a number of historical court decisions to understand how section 35 is shaping these rights. From the 1999 Marshall decision that confirmed the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet treaty right to catch and sell fish, to the 2014 Tsilhqot'in decision that granted aboriginal title to more than 1,700 sq kilometres of territory, a first in Canadian law, it is clear that our understanding of indigenous rights is constantly evolving. Just last week, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered a decision regarding the Peel watershed, which upheld aboriginal land use rights protected in treaties.

It might be suggested that the gap or problem in Canada is not our legal framework, but our frequent failure to live up to the obligations and the honour of the crown.

The bill before us today seeks to implement the 46 articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as stated in the document, “a standard...to be pursued in a spirit of partnership and mutual respect”. All parties in the House acknowledge the need for reconciliation, a better shared future, and the importance of the declaration. The 46 articles are essential guiding principles for that journey.

I do have some unanswered questions regarding how this international document will transpose into a domestic framework. In my opinion, we need some clear answers before we can move forward on Bill C-262. Let me share some general and specific concerns that need to be addressed.

In the past, the Liberals have argued vehemently that any small changes to the Indian Act and the Labour Code must only be introduced as government legislation, where there is an opportunity for comprehensive reflection and not just a couple of hours of debate. I would suggest that the bill before us today has more far-reaching implications than the right to a secret ballot for union certification. For the Liberals to support an NDP private member's bill to implement UNDRIP and not put it forward as government-initiated legislation is unfathomable. The debate will not be afforded the due diligence that it requires and deserves. Even today, members might have noticed that we did not hear from the minister. We did not have an opportunity under private members' business to even question the minister. In my mind, that is a problem.

To get into more specifics, first and foremost was the statement by the Minister of Justice in 2016, and I quote, “Simplistic approaches such as adopting the United Nations declaration as being Canadian law are unworkable and, respectfully, a political distraction to undertaking the hard work actually required to implement it back home in communities.”

The justice minister, unlike many of us who will be speaking to the bill, has access to all sorts of comprehensive briefings and advice. The minister would not have made that comment lightly, so it is critical for her to explain why she made the comment at that time, and how she now reconciles that with her recent commitment to support the bill. I would note that because it is private member's bill, we are very unlikely to get a chance to ask her that question.

On Thursday of last week, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations was at committee. At that time, we had the opportunity to ask a number of questions, and I want to provide a brief summary of that testimony.

Article 19 suggests that the government ensure free, prior, and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative measures that may affect them. When the minister was asked if that would apply to laws of general application or only laws that exclusively impact indigenous people, she clearly indicated that there would be a broader application. That brings us to a question of what future laws of broader application in this country would require free, prior, and informed consent, and how will that be determined in a country as diverse as Canada. How will that consent be given?

The national organizations acknowledge they are not rights holders, they are not the authorized decision-makers, and their mandate is advocacy. The indigenous community has indicated that it has to do a lot of work in terms of nation rebuilding. Therefore, what government structure or consultation framework would be put in place to actually engage in these consultations? To what degree would this commitment around the laws of general application fetter the government's ability to move forward? I will give some recent examples.

We certainly know that with Bill S-3, the government is committed to engaging in a consultation process. Clearly, that is not a general application law, but the government is going to have consultations with bands across the country. I have no idea how the government members are going to determine when they have concurrence and how long they are going to have to spend in a process where there will be human rights competing in terms of consent, and at the very dichotomy of the many consultations they will have to have. In that case it is first nations, but we also have the Métis and the Inuit.

The marijuana law is another example of broader application that is clearly going to have an impact in indigenous communities. Under our current framework, the government only engaged in a general consultation process. Would that bill be subject to article 19, and if so what would it do to the government's timelines and how are the Liberals going to move forward? The answer to that question is unknown, but it is important.

Today, we have been debating in the House Bill C-58, which is the privacy law. Again, we have a number of indigenous communities whose representatives have said that they have grave concerns. They have referenced the UN declaration in terms of their right to have input, and free, prior, and informed consent, but we have no system or process in terms of how we are going to move that forward. That is important work that needs to be done.

Where a lot of people have focused, the laws of general application are something we need to pay particular attention to, but there is also the issue of free, prior, and informed consent as it relates to the development of the natural resources. The minister has suggested it was not a veto and the position was supported by National Chief Bellegarde. However, he noted on three occasions that free, prior, and informed consent means the right to say yes and the right to say no. A number of lawyers have said the whole discussion is really a bit of semantics and whether it is veto or consent it has the same effect. Again, it leads to a question in law. What is the difference between “free, prior, and informed consent” and “consult and accommodate”, which is what we have in law right now? Certainly there is no question that the declaration proposes that change in our law and we need to simply know what that is going to mean because it is important. From what I have seen, the legal opinions out there are as varied as they possibly could be. As members might imagine, it leaves confusion in the minds of not only the indigenous communities but Canadians in general. We have some work to do in terms of developing a common understanding before we commit to an implementation into our legal framework.

Article 29 talks about the right to territories, lands, and resources. In British Columbia alone, that is 100% of the province. What are going to be the practical implications for perhaps the tourism operators in the Chilcotin or the ranchers who have depended on crown land, as these decisions get made? We have not talked about impacted third parties and how, as we correct the injustices of the past, we should not create a new injustice.

In conclusion, as members can see from my 10 minutes of speaking, there are a lot of important unanswered questions. My first concern is the fact that the government has committed to implementing this as a private member's bill where we are going to be limited in the debate and our opportunity to create a shared understanding. The shared understanding of all these concepts is going to be critical in terms of moving forward into success in the future for all.

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

November 27th, 2017 / 4:50 p.m.
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Kings—Hants Nova Scotia

Liberal

Scott Brison LiberalPresident of the Treasury Board

moved that Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for this opportunity to speak on Bill C-58, which would amend Canada's Access to Information Act.

As we developed these reforms, we were guided by the principle that government information belongs to the people it serves.

We remain committed to that principle, which was introduced for the first time in the Access to Information Act in 1983.

Now 34 years later, our proposed reforms would advance the original intent of the act in a way that reflects Canada's technologies, policies, and legislation. This is not a one-off exercise. Rather, we have kicked off a progressive ongoing renewal of the ATI system, one that will protect Canadians' rights of access to government information well into the future. Our efforts began over a year ago.

In May 2016, I issued a directive suggesting openness by default in government.

Open by default means having a culture across government in which data and information are increasingly released as a matter of course, unless there are specific reasons not to do so. Now, with the amendments proposed in Bill C-58, we are taking the next step. These amendments would create a new part of the act relating to proactive disclosure, one that effectively puts into practice the idea of open by default. Proactive disclosure would apply to more than 240 departments, agencies, and crown corporations, including the Prime Minister's Office, ministers' offices, senators and members of Parliament, institutions that support Parliament, administrative institutions that support the courts, and over 1,100 judges of the superior courts.

We also added to the legislation the proactive publication of information that we know is of interest to Canadians and that provides greater transparency and accountability with respect to the use of public money.

This will include travel and hospitality expenses for ministers and their staffs and senior officials across government, contracts over $10,000, and all contracts for MPs and senators, grants and contributions over $25,000, mandate letters and revised mandate letters of ministers, briefing packages for new ministers and deputy ministers, lists of briefing notes for the minister and deputy minister, and briefing binders prepared for question period and parliamentary committee appearances.

Of course, this does not absolve us of our responsibility to strengthen the request-based system. We know that the access to information system has been the subject widespread and warranted criticism. In fact, demands on the system have grown massively in recent years. That is why we are developing a guide to provide requesters with clear explanations of exemptions and exclusions, investing in tools to make processing information requests more efficient, allowing federal institutions with the same minister to share request processing services for greater efficiency, and increasing government training to get common and consistent interpretation of the application of ATI rules.

In addition, the proposed bill gives the Information Commissioner new powers, including the power to order the release of government records. This is an important advancement that was first recommended by a parliamentary committee studying the Access to Information Act back in 1987. Our government is acting on it and Bill C-58 would change the commissioner's role from an ombudsperson to an authority with the power to order the release of government records.

We are taking steps to help government institutions eliminate requests made in bad faith, which are detrimental to the system.

By tying up government resources, such vexatious, bad faith requests can interfere with an institution's ability to do its work and respond to other requests. Let me be clear. We have heard the concerns expressed about how we must safeguard against the abuse of this proposed measure. A large or broad request, or one that causes government discomfort, does not, of itself, represent bad faith on the part of the requester.

I would like to address the amendments made at committee. Our government believes in working with parliamentarians through the committee system for the good of all Canadians. I was happy to see that the committee passed over a dozen amendments, which serve to further strengthen and clarify our government's intent to strengthen and reform our access to information regime.

For example, one amendment removes the ability of departments to decline to act on a request simply because the request does not specify the subject matter, type of record, or time period. It gives the Office of the Information Commissioner the power to approve or reject upfront a department's request to decline to act on a request. It clarifies that a department can only decline to act based on the record already being available if it is the identical record.

These amendments address concerns raised by both the Information Commissioner and other stakeholders, including representatives of indigenous claims organizations. The amendments further underline the fact that we want to ensure that the system cannot be abused and cannot be used to decline to act on legitimate requests.

The committee also passed an amendment giving the Information Commissioner the power to publish the results of her investigations and to publish their orders. This is an important strengthening of the commissioner's powers.

The committee passed an amendment that imposes a 30-day deadline for the proactive disclosure of mandate letters.

This is just the first phase of our access to information modernization. In fact, Bill C-58 includes a mandatory review of the act every five years. The first review will begin no later than one year after this bill receives royal assent. What is more, it will require that departments regularly review the information being requested under the act. This will help us understand and increase information that could be proactively disclosed.

After 34 years, Canada's Access to Information Act needs updating. This is going to be an ongoing work in progress as we have an evergreening, modernization and strengthening of the Access to Information Act. We look forward to continuing our work to help make government more open, transparent, and accountable.

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November 27th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the President of the Treasury Board, but I cannot, because I do not know what bill he is talking about. Bill C-58 would do the opposite of what he just said it would do.

Here is what the Liberals promised would be in this legislation. They promised that access to information would apply to his office and to the Prime Minister's Office. It does not. They promised that the bill would apply appropriately to administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts. It does not. The government promised that the bill would empower the Information Commissioner to order the release of government information. It does not.

That is not just my opinion, it is the opinion of the Information Commissioner who appeared before us at committee and moved recommendations to fix Bill C-58. It is somewhat offensive to hear the Treasury Board President talking about respecting the work of committee, because the Liberals struck down amendment after amendment. These were amendments that were based on the testimony we heard at committee, from not only the Information Commissioner, but representatives from first nations communities and the media.

The Liberals promised a number of things, one of which was to rely on evidence. On all of these measures that I just outlined, Bill C-58 is “regressive”, and that is also according to the Information Commissioner.

Who does the member expect us to trust, a government that will not answer simple and direct questions day after day, or the Information Commissioner who is the watchdog and works on behalf of Parliament and all Canadians to make sure we get the information we need to hold government to account?

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November 27th, 2017 / 5:05 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the member for Vancouver Quadra, who has been doing a great job as parliamentary secretary on this and other files.

These amendments address concerns raised by the Information Commissioner and other stakeholders, including representatives of indigenous claims organizations. We have taken these concerns seriously and are open to moving forward with them. We want to make sure that the system cannot be abused and that a request cannot be declined when it is a legitimate request.

The call for a vexatious clause in this has come from the ethics committee in the past. In fact, the Information Commissioner has called for it in the past. It is important that it be properly and narrowly defined. There are eight provinces and the three territories that have a similar clause.

I also agree with the amendment that would provide the power of the Information Commissioner, up front in the process, to either agree with or reject the use of a vexatious clause in the denial of a request. I support that, and I believe it should be up front. That is why the parliamentary process informs and strengthens legislation. It is why I demonstrated very early that I was open to amendments that would help to strengthen the legislation.

Beyond that, within a year of the passage of Bill C-58, we would have a mandatory full review to assess these changes and inform future changes. This is a work in progress—

Access to Information ActGovernment Orders

November 27th, 2017 / 5:10 p.m.
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Conservative

John Brassard Conservative Barrie—Innisfil, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the minister speak, and as I sit in the House on a daily basis, as we all do, is it any wonder that we find it hard to believe that anything the government says it is going to do will actually come to fruition? We have seen broken promise after broken promise. If members do not believe me, just look at what some of those who are looking closely at Bill C-58 are saying. By ruling out the possibility to obtain information from ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's Office, the government is breaking its campaign promise to establish a government open by default. Moreover, the possibility to refuse certain access to information requests on an undefined basis jeopardizes the transparency and the openness of this government. That was from Katie Gibbs, the executive director of Evidence for Democracy group. However, there are more, and I will refer to more as I get through my speech today on Bill C-58.

I would be remiss if I did not go back a couple of hours, back to the future, and the egregious display of contempt for parliamentary democracy. It has been a practice in this place for many years that when opposition members ask questions directly and pointedly to the finance minister, as we did today, or to other ministers of the crown, that those answers are expected. They are expected on behalf of all Canadians. This is why we are elected to come to this place; it is to ask the type of hard questions that were asked today.

In the preamble to the movement of a motion to adjourn debate on Bill C-63, I will remind the House that we are talking about openness and transparency, which is something the government runs around saying. The Prime Minister stands up in front of microphones, posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat that the government is more open and transparent than any other government in the history of Canada. I would suggest that nothing could be further from the truth.

I would again remind the House of what I said before I moved the motion to adjourn debate. I said to the Speaker that before I resumed my comments, I wanted to go back to question period and what I thought, quite frankly, was an egregious display of contempt for our parliamentary democracy. This minister was asked multiple times whether he had sold his shares in Morneau Shepell in advance of his tax reform announcement, and he failed to answer the question on multiple occasions.

Therefore, in the absence of the minister answering those questions on a bill that, quite frankly, he has influence over, I would call into question the ability of Canadians to have confidence in him conducting further business on the bill. It is confidence, and not just on this bill, but any bill. The Minister of Finance was asked a minimum of 14 times today in question period whether in fact he had sold his shares in Morneau Shepell in advance of his tax reform policies being announced, and each time he skirted the question. He would not answer. He went on about the middle class and those working hard to join it. Well, right now, it is a matter of the middle class and those working hard to stay in it because of the policies of the finance minister.

We are expected to sit in the House and accept not just what the President of Treasury Board talks about in terms of openness and accountability, but there are multiple people, stakeholders, who have a vested interest in what the President of Treasury Board is promoting and proposing in terms of this access to information legislation, and they are being critical of it. They are being as critical as we are being on the finance minister, because he needs to answer the questions.

The government needs to force the finance minister to answer the questions as to whether in fact he had any vested interest or knowledge of the sale of those shares. It speaks to credibility, to transparency, to accountability, which the government is good at talking about, but when it comes to implementing or living by that, it does not.

What was funny about Bill C-63 and the motion we put forward was that every single person, save one, I believe the member from the Green Party, voted in support of adjourning the debate on that bill. They did that because they do not want to talk about it.

All we are asking is that the minister answer the questions that have been asked of him by those who represent Canadians in this House, every single one of us who are not members of the Liberal Party.

We are actually hearing about Liberal members who are questioning their confidence in the ability of the finance minister to conduct the business of the country. Why? It is because he has failed to answer the questions. He has answered, but in generalities. He goes back to the fetal position of saying that they are working hard for the middle class and those working hard to join it. However, he refuses to answer the questions.

If we are talking about openness and transparency, and this government is proposing Bill C-58, why is the finance minister not being open and transparent with Canadians? We can speculate that perhaps he knows that Canadians will not be happy with the answers. They will not be happy with the villa in France and why he hid that from the Ethics Commissioner, that he had complete control over Morneau Shepell shares and shares in various corporations, or that perhaps he was the one who sold that $10 million worth of shares just ahead of making that announcement. Openness and transparency: what an absolute joke.

I also want to talk about some other individuals who have concerns about what the government is proposing in Bill C-58. The bill proposes a good amendment, and I will give some credit here, by requiring more proactive publication of some information by giving the Information Commissioner the power to order the publication of some information, but it does nothing to fill the huge gaps in the act, as was promised by the Liberals.

We need more changes to have a government that is transparent and open by default. Again, the Liberals talk about openness and transparency, but they do not act in that way.

"The bill is a step backwards in allowing government officials to deny requests for information if they think the request is frivolous or made in bad faith. Public officials should not be given this power, as they will likely use it as a new loophole to deny the public information it has a right know.” Dale Conacher, the co-founder of Democracy Watch, said that.

Stephane Giroux, the president of the Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec said, “The most interesting fact for us was to have access to documents from ministers' offices. False alarm. It was too good to be true.”

In spite of the fact that the President of the Treasury Board is standing up and saying that all these changes have occurred within Bill C-58, the reality is that there are still significant concerns. I think there is concern among Canadians. This past weekend, I had lots of events in my riding, and one of the things I kept hearing about is confidence in the finance minister to continue to do his job, given the circumstances and the besieged state he has been in over the last while. The fact that every single member of the Liberal caucus voted to adjourn debate on this issue calls into question not just Canadians' confidence in the finance minister but the Liberal backbenches' confidence in the finance minister.

The Hill Times today reported that there are concerns among Liberal backbenchers that this is going to affect them in 2019. Do members know the reason they gave for that concern? Many of them will have been here for one term of four years. They are concerned about their pensions. That is what it said in the paper.

How about being concerned about the process of democracy in this country and making sure that no one benefits from having holdings, in the case of the finance minister, that they have not brought forward and been transparent about?

Never mind pensions, we should be focused on what the finance minister is doing by not being transparent and accountable to Canadians and question whether some of the legislation he is putting forward, such as Bill C-27, actually benefits him.

I would remind the House as well that it is not just a matter of benefiting him. What about the benefit to his family? What about his wife? What about his kids? What about his father? How many Morneau Shepell shareholders, or anyone directly or indirectly associated with that family, are benefiting as a result of the policies the finance minister is putting forward? We talk about being open and transparent, but the finance minister has been anything but, and we certainly saw that egregious display today in the House.

As parents, we teach our kids about the difference between right and wrong. We tell our kids what they cannot do and explain it to them. We tell them what they can do and explain the reasons why. We talk often to our kids about character. School systems, through the policies of education, speak about character. They speak about honesty and integrity, yet the finance minister is showing none of those character traits to Canadians with his actions.

We are dealing with a piece of legislation, Bill C-58, that, quite frankly, is difficult to support for many reasons, the least of which is the government not showing any strong movement toward openness and transparency. It is a very top-down approach by the government.

The former information commissioner, from 2007 to 2008, said, “there's no one [in government departments] to review what they choose not to disclose, and I think that goes against the principle of the statute. They've taken the commissioner out of the loop. If you ask for these briefing notes...[and parts of them had been blacked out], you had someone to appeal to.”

This is no longer the case with Bill C-58.

He went on, “We can't even go to a court. It's one step forward, two steps back.”

We have seen a lot of one step forward and two steps back with the government. My fear is that the openness and transparency the Liberals ran on are not there anymore. We have seen that the finance minister cannot even answer a simple question. He will not even answer a simple question. Quite frankly, after seeing this display we have been seeing over the course of the last several months to questions being asked, how can we have any faith? If the finance minister will not even answer a simple question, how can we expect the whole of government to be open, honest, and transparent?

I am saddened by what I see, quite frankly, as a new parliamentarian. I know the other side is going to say that there were circumstances in the past when similar issues happened. We are not talking about circumstances in the past. The Liberals were the same opposition that stood and talked about the egregiousness of the actions of previous governments. They ran to be different. They said that they were going to impose real change. We have seen nothing to suggest anything different. We are seeing a government that is more inward. We are seeing a government that is controlled from the top down. We are seeing a government where the Prime Minister's Office runs everything. Not just on this issue but on multiple issues, anything but what they said has come true.

Conservatives are not going to support Bill C-58. I certainly call into question the finance minister. I call into question his ability to manage the financial affairs of the country, given the circumstances we have seen over the course of the last several months.

Despite their campaign promises, the Liberals have failed to increase government openness and transparency with this bill. As I have said, it is no surprise. This is effectively a government that chooses to publish when it is accountable to Canadians. It is not being accountable all the time. It is going to pick and choose when it wants to be accountable to Canadians. In practice, what the Liberals have effectively done is give themselves the power to refuse to respond to access to information requests they find embarrassing. Under the principle of openness and transparency, should not everything be responded to?

I understand that there might be matters of national security that are not in the public interest, but this is something different from what they ran on, as far as openness and transparency goes. With the changes proposed by the Liberals, less information would be available to Canadians. Moreover, the Liberals would do nothing to address unacceptable delays, so we would continue to see that information punted down the field and would have unacceptable delays in when that information would be put forward to Canadians.

I spent some time talking about Bill C-58, but in the context of openness and transparency, I cannot emphasize enough the egregious nature of the issue we have been dealing for the last couple of months with the finance minister. Again today there was zero accountability, zero transparency, and zero openness. It is a pattern that has evolved with the Liberal government over the course of the last two years. It should concern all of us. It certainly concerns stakeholders who have an interest in this. However, it is not just a concern to all of us who are here to represent Canadians. It is a concern to all Canadians, because it is the small stuff that leads to the big stuff. If we cannot get simple answers to simple questions in this place of openness and transparency, how can we expect to get that information from a government that proves, day after day, that it is not interested in openness? It is not interested in transparency and accountability, in spite of the fact that it ran on that very thing.

They said they were going to be different. The reality is, and we have seen it over the course of the last two years, that nothing could be further from the truth. With the display of the finance minister over the course of the last couple of months, and certainly today, there is not much faith in the ability of the government to be open, transparent, and accountable. That is why Bill C-58 is flawed. We continue to be concerned about the actions of the finance minister and how the Liberal government and these Liberal backbenchers can continue to endorse the display we are seeing here on a daily basis.

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November 27th, 2017 / 5:30 p.m.
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Vancouver Quadra B.C.

Liberal

Joyce Murray LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Madam Speaker, I must say I am disappointed. The member clearly does not have the intention of raising the quality of debate in the House. First, he barely spoke about Bill C-58. I am proud that we are the first government in 34 years to make major reforms to the Access to Information Act. Second, he was wrong in the few comments he made about the bill. He said it would deny access to information requests that are frivolous or made in bad faith. In fact, the amendments would give the commissioner up-front approval power over any department's request to decline to act on a request because the department believed it was vexatious or in bad faith. The member clearly did not even read the committee's changes and is not up to date on the bill. That is disappointing. It is not a priority for him, clearly.

I also want to note that in its 2006 platform, the Conservative Party made a clear commitment to update the access to information law, and the Conservatives did absolutely nothing in 10 years. Did they never intend to actually deliver on that promise, or did they just not care enough to do a thing about it in 10 years?

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November 27th, 2017 / 5:40 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, as always, I am deeply honoured to rise in the House and speak for the people of Timmins—James Bay. I will be speaking tonight to Bill C-58 and to express my deep concern about the government's attack on the access to information system.

The folks back home may not pay a lot of attention to access to information because it is the stuff of journalists, researchers and opposition politics. However, access to information is one of the fundamental principles of an accountable democracy. In order to hold government to account, we need to know who is involved when the decisions in the backroom are made. We need to have some manner of light shone into the dark rooms where the power brokers are to ensure a level of accountability. That is the role of the Access to Information Act.

At one point, Canada was well-respected for the Access to Information Act brought in a number of decades ago. However, year by year Canada has slipped in its level of credibility. We are going to be talking about some specific examples of how that plays out tonight.

We are in a situation now where we have a Prime Minister who won so much support across the country because the very first step he took in offering his vision as a new leader was on access to information and open government. His vision for Parliament would be the opposite of the Stephen Harper government, which was considered so controlling and secretive. People put their trust in the Prime Minister. I remember thinking this was really bold, a leader who was willing to make the changes necessary for access to information.

I have grown increasingly concerned that more and more our Parliament has become a sideshow. It has become a Potemkin democracy, where MPs get to play out in the House, but the real decisions are made to benefit those who are not accountable. When the Prime Minister makes a promise on access to information and then undermines it in such a cynical manner, Canadians have a right to know how this happens and how it affects them.

With respect to Bill C-58, which is supposed to change the access to information laws in the country, the President of the Treasury Board says that we should not worry because Canadians will now have access to the mandate letters for the ministers. Is that not already public? He also said that we should not worry because Canadians would now get to know the travel budgets of various ministers. That is already public.

However, what we do not have is the ability in this case for the Access to Information Commissioner to ensure that all documents are posted. One thing we have found with government is that certain documents are not all that helpful to it. Remember when the Minister of Indigenous Services racked up all those thousands of dollars riding around Markham in a limousine? That was embarrassing to government and it did not want that information released. Therefore, if we allow government to release what it wants, it will not release what is embarrassing. However, we need accountability.

Therefore, I will talk about Bill C-58 in the context of a couple of specific cases so people will understand exactly what we are talking about. I am going to talk about the issue of St. Anne's residential school.

As the government is leading its attack to limit the ability of people to access information, I am dealing with the Access to Information Commissioner on the three-and-a-half-year obstruction by federal officials in the justice department to suppress and blackout who made key decisions regarding the justice department's response to the survivors of St. Anne's residential school. In telling the story, we begin to understand why it is so important to have an accountable system for access to information.

St. Anne's residential school was in the region I represent, the community of Fort Albany. If we look at the horrific history of the residential schools, the story of what was done to the children at St. Anne's year in and year out, generation upon generation, it stands among the most horrifying of stories in the country's history. It was a veritable concentration camp of torture and sexual abuse of children.

In 1992, the survivors of St. Anne's came together in Fort Albany to talk about their experience. For the first time, many of them began to talk about the levels of sexual abuse, rape, and forced abortions to which children were subjected.

Edmund Metatawabin, who is chief, brought this to the Ontario Provincial Police and demanded a major police investigation. To its credit, the Ontario Provincial Police, with Sergeant Delguidice in the Cochrane division, undertook a massive investigation of the crimes committed against those children. They identified over 180 perpetrators of rape, torture, and abuse of children. They gathered 1,000 witness statements of that abuse from the survivors and students who were there. They gathered 12,000 pages of police testimony and documentation, including subpoenaed records from the Catholic church in the diocese of Moosonee, to build a picture of what went on in that institution year in and year out.

In 2003, there was an effort with the survivors and the then federal government of Paul Martin, I believe, to try to find a solution. The survivors were shocked at the aggressiveness of the federal government to fight and deny every single case, no matter the evidence. At that time, all of the evidence the police had gathered in Ontario had led to a number of convictions in an Ontario court against the perpetrators of the abuse at St. Anne's, but let us face it: the big ones got away. The priests and bishops who were involved got away. Some of them were dead, some of the perpetrators could not be found, but a number of people were convicted in an Ontario court.

However, in 2004, the justice department wanted access to that trove of evidence to prepare the defence of the number one defendant, which was Canada. When it applied for access to the police documentation, it told the Ontario Superior Court of Justice that it would be unfair to Canada, which was in charge of this institution, in preparing its defence if it did not have all of the evidence. The key officials in the justice department were involved in the application to obtain those records, and they got the records, some 12,000 pages. They got the names of the perpetrators. They were preparing for the major civil litigation trials against Canada.

In 2007-08, the process for the Indian residential schools settlement agreement was set up as an alternative so that the federal government could escape these cases. The federal government agreed at that time to set up the independent assessment process, the IAP. The IAP was to be a non-confrontational process in which the survivors could tell their stories. That is how they told the survivors it would play out, but of course it did not play out like that at all for the survivors of St. Anne's. Therefore, the justice department wore two hats. The first hat was to obtain all of the evidence, prepared in so-called narratives, so that the adjudicators and claimant lawyers could use it to make it easier for the claimants. The justice department acted as the gatherer of evidence. The justice department's other hat was as lawyer for the defendant, Canada, and its number one goal was limiting the payouts.

In the case of St. Anne's residential school, the justice department had an obligation to prepare a list of all documentation, listing all the known crimes and sexual abuse that occurred in that institution, and it presented a document at the hearing stating that there was no known history of sexual abuse at the Fort Albany Indian residential school, St. Anne's. It said there was absolutely no documentation to show any student-on-student abuse at the Fort Albany institution of St. Anne's.

People told their stories, and their cases were thrown out because the justice department did not go there with a non-confrontational attitude. It went in loaded for bear and accused the survivors, who were victims of child rape, of not being able to prove their stories because they could not remember the day the priest raped them, that they could not remember little details. Yet the justice department already knew they were telling the truth because it had all of the evidence.

We had claimants, like claimant H-15019, whose case was thrown out, because the justice department argued there was no proof that a predatory pedophile priest was in St. Anne's Residential School when that child was in that building. That child, who grew into a man who asked for justice from the Government of Canada did not know that the justice department had a long list involving that pedophile priest. The department knew he had been in that building since 1938. From 1938 to 1974 he had free access to rape children, and the Justice Department of Canada lied about it in hearings, suppressed that evidence, and had that case thrown out. How could this have happened in 2015, 2016, and 2017 in Canada?

The greatest moment that I have seen since I have been here and the greatest moment in the history of this Parliament was when Prime Minister Harper stood up in the House and apologized. People in my region wept for days when they heard that apology. They never thought that justice would happen and after hearing the apology they thought it was possible.

People wept when the present Prime Minister gave a powerful speech at the closing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was listening to him. He said that Canada would make this right, that the obligation of the survivors to prove what they went through was over, that Canada would be there for them. That has not been the case with the survivors of St. Anne's Residential School. The justice department continues to take the brass knuckles approach to deny them basic levels of justice.

In 2013 I wrote to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and the justice minister at the time and I asked them who had made the decision to suppress the police evidence in testimony that had these cases thrown out. I asked them both what they were going to do to rectify this clear breach of legal duty. Those ministers said they knew about the evidence but that they were not accountable for presenting it, which was false.

In January 2014, the Ontario Superior Court ordered the previous government and the justice minister to turn over those documents to the independent assessment process to have those cases fairly adjudicated. The government refused. It continued to deny.

The survivors of St. Anne's Residential School had to go back to court in 2015, and this time the government was forced to turn over the documents. However, it had blacked out the names of the perpetrators and the witnesses to make the evidence functionally useless.

For what purpose in a nation like ours would the Government of Canada opt to protect pedophiles, rapists, and sadists by hiding their names? For what possible reason would justice department lawyers, the people who are charged with presenting the law for the people of Canada, go into hearings and challenge survivors who suffered horrific levels of abuse? For what possible reason would the Government of Canada decide to suppress this police evidence? I still have not figured out an answer to that, but it dogs me. I stay up at night trying to figure out what kind of person hired to represent Canada would do this.

In 2013, I applied a simple tool, a tool of all parliamentarians and of all Canadians, by making an access to information request regarding the political decisions that went into suppressing the police testimony and evidence that denied justice to the survivors of St. Anne's Residential School.

For the information of folks back home, when a government does not want to answer a question, it delays. We had a 300-day delay. We knew this was just an attempt by the department not to have to answer the question. The cases were closing down and the ability of survivors who had their cases thrown out to re-appeal the verdicts was coming to an end. It seemed obvious that the justice department would drag this out over three years, because it thought that the cases would be closed and all would be said and done. We waited 300 days, 600 days, then 900 days.

The new government came in and I thought it would change things. It had no reason to oppose survivors of St. Anne's. The new government took the position that it would not turn over any of the political documentation regarding the decision to suppress the police evidence. That was done by the new justice minister and the new Prime Minister.

Therefore, we approached the access to information commissioner, the tool that we use, to ask how is it possible that after three years of delay, they could deny and say they were not obligated to turn over this evidence. This documentation concerns who knew what in the minister's office. This is a question on a political issue that Canadians need answered.

The Information Commissioner and her office are one of the great institutions of our country. She understood the seriousness of this. It was not a vexatious request; it was about justice. She challenged the justice department. We were on the verge of being in court with the justice department to find out what was being said in those offices when they suppressed that police evidence. The justice department agreed to turn over four batches of information over a period of a year. The first batch of information was about 90% blacked out. The second batch of 3,000 pages we just received was entirely blacked out.

When the government says it wants the right to refuse vexatious requests, what it means by vexatious are the requests that would give it political grief. It wants to be able to turn those down.

The folks who survived St. Anne's Residential School, who were taken from their families, who had their identities stripped from them, who had their rights taken away from them, who were left in the hands of abusers and torturers, have a right to ask why Parliament failed them. They have a right to ask why the justice department of our country continues to deny and challenge them and obstruct their basic rights for redress. Part of those answers may lie in the courts, but part of those answers lie in the access to information request. We have a right to know who advised the politicians to do this.

I would like to say that the abuse of the children at St. Anne's has come to an end because of these beautiful apologies, but it has not. We now have, in the case of claimant H-15019 and claimant C14114, a case that was thrown out because she did not have any documentation. She was unable to prove that when she was assaulted in St. Anne's Residential School it was known by administration. Then, after her case was thrown out, she learned there were all these documents. She attempted to have her case reopened. The Government of Canada said she could not reopen her case because her case was adjudicated. We are talking about a child victim of rape. What possible reason would the Government of Canada have to suppress police testimony about child rape? What possible reason could it have to defy the Ontario Superior Court and black out the names of the perpetrators? For what possible reason would it black out all of the political documentation on what was said in the minister's office regarding this decision?

For what possible reason, right now, at this time, would they be in the hearing saying “Okay, we've been finally forced to hand over the police testimony, but it is inadmissible”. Why is it inadmissible? It is inadmissible because it has not been tested. What they are saying to the survivors is that it does not matter that we are having to present 12,000 pages of police documentation of the perpetrators, because the survivors have to find a witness to come in and be tested.

The trauma to the communities I represent is a direct highway from St. Anne's Residential School to the suicide crisis of our young people today. Talk to anyone in the community and they will say that trauma continues to kill children, and yet we have justice department lawyers saying that evidence cannot be used unless they bring forward a survivor to be re-challenged by the justice department.

I will close on this. We do have a survivor who is willing to come forward and verify the testimony. The justice department said she cannot be allowed to speak because she has already spoken. Can someone explain that to me? That is why we need access to information. It is to understand the perfidious nature of what is—