Reform we deserve

This semester in Jeffery Shantz special topics class on dissent and criminalization my group, for our term project, were takes with discussing government surveillance on those who are opposed to the pipelines. To aid in our research of how the government watches protesters we used the Access to Information Act; we were able to get a hold of a previous request that had been filed with the National Energy Board. The documents we received were heavily redacted several pages were just blank. Any time there was information that we deemed to be important it was redacted.

It was at this point that I realized that the ATIA was inefficient; in class my suspicions were further confirmed. There have been many attempts at changing the ATIA, but none have become law. In 2004 a private members bill was introduced into parliament that was designed to change the Act. The bill was going to change the name of the Access to Information act to the Open Government Act, hardly a big change; however, it did propose monumental changes (Douglas & Loranger & Litwhick, 2012). The bill was going to expand the governmental departments that citizens were able to file ATIs with (Douglas & Loranger & Litwhick, 2012). It doesn’t specifically list what agencies would be affected by this change, but its not conjecture to say crown corporations could have been included. It would be interesting to see the practices of ICBC or BC Hydro. This bill would have also made it a requirement of the Commissioners office to create a list every year of what departments comply with the requests they receive, and which don’t (Douglas & Loranger & Litwhick, 2012). This is an effective tool to make organizations comply with requests to information. Public pressure can be applied to these organizations to answer why they are not open, as they need to be; public pressure is a great toll to humiliate and demand that an organization fulfill the requirements that is bound by law to comply with. This new law would also have made the deliberations between ministers, when discussing policies, available to the public (Douglas & Loranger & Litwhick, 2012). This would allow the public to see what ideas the ministers considered, and how they arrived at the final decision.

In the Bok’s article on government secrecy an explanation if offered that could explain why government is hesitant to reform the Access to Information Act. It is stated that the government when deciding on new policies lists all the options that are on the table; some of these options can be a bit extreme, but need to be considered (Bok, 1989). For example, if North Korea tests a new missile ministers might discus bombing their capital, and command and control centers. To the public this might seem extreme and will portray the government as monsters; however, it is unlikely that the government will do this, but do need to discus it to see if it is a possibility. With the new law the discussions that minsters have would be available to the public, so this could be why the government does not want to reform the ATI laws. The Access to Information laws do need to be changed. They are no longer up to par.

Bok, S. (1989). Secrets: on the ethics of concealment and revelation. New

York: Vintage Books.

Douglas, K., & Loranger, E, & Lithwich, D. The Access to Information Act and

Proposals for ReformThe Access to Information Act and Proposals for

Reform. Reterived from



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ATI/FOI Requests: Why we should continue using them.

The fear of having using the ATI/FOI right is a concern for some people who seek employment with the government as the feel they will be “put on the radar”, decreasing their chances of seeking employment with the government. In the directive on the Administration of the Access Information Act, which was taken into effect on May 5, 2014, states in section 7.4.1 under the heading protection of applicant’s identity it states that it should be “limiting, on a need-to-know basis, the disclosure of information that could directly or indirectly lead to the identification of a requester, unless the requester consents to the disclosure”(Government of Canada, 2014). Though they indicate it is on a need-to-know basis, it does not indicate why and when this information can be used as a need-to know basis. The employees are responsible to complete the request no matter who the requester is, and should only be able to identify the applicant based on the information that he or she has provided in the initial request. However, this can be a concern, that I have experienced recently. I had taken the Criminology 4900 Special Topics class where we were taught how to conduct an Access to Information Request. My focus was on the sharing of information between different agencies and also documents which reveal the number of extraordinary renditions which have taken place in Canada since September 11, 2001. I had sent out my request to two different agencies, the RCMP and CSIS. I did not experience any difficulties from the request that a made with the RCMP, but for CSIS I experienced a very unique incident. I had given my gmail address to contact me if they need any clarification, however I received an e-mail from the Access to Information to my hotmail and kwantlen e-mail accounts. It was very concerning, the e-mail had stated that “the gmail e-mail address written on your request is not clear. If this e-mail finds you, could you kindly reply from your gmail address. We would like to clarify your request”. It was very concerning to me that they were able to find both my kwantlen and hotmail e-mail addresses, and it just shows that the employees have a lot of access to our personal information that they are able to collect and contact a person with information that was not provided to them, so I do understand when a student will not conduct an ATI/FOI request in fear that they may prevent them from getting a future job at a government agencies.
I can see ATI/FOI request being used as surveillance, especially after the September 11, 200l attacks in New York. Privacy rights were “…originally envisioned as a means for individuals to secure a personal space free from state scrutiny are being configured by corporate and state interests”(Haggerty, K.D., & Ericson R.V., 2006, P.10). Though privacy laws that have been in placed in protecting our information, the state uses their power to breach in the name of protecting the country, and infringing on our the rights as citizens. We have the right to this information, but we are scared to use because of the fear that it may back fire on us in the near future. However, I will argue that this should not prevent one from getting a job in a government field. The government and the state is holding back information from us, and also redact the information that we are not “entitled” to, therefore, we have not done anything wrong when requesting information. I find it that if more students took the initiative to conduct the ATI/FOI requests on a topic that they are curious about, or want to know what has happen, they will be more accountability in the government. Bok makes a good point in her article when she states that “…public access to government information is indispensable in the long run for any democratic society”(Bok, S., 1989, P.179). We live in a democratic country in which we should be not be afraid to voice our concerns and opinions. ATI/FOI are great tools to get information and understanding about a topic, and brings in accountability in the government.


Bok, S. (1989). Secrets: on the ethics of concealment and revelation. New York: Vintage
Books. – pp. 3-14 and pp. 171-190
Government of Canada (2014). Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act. Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Retrieved from eng.aspx?id=18310&section=text
Haggerty, K. D., & Ericson, R. V. (2006). The New Politics of Surveillance and
Visibility. In R. V. Ericson & K. D. Haggerty (Eds.), The new politics of
surveillance and visibility (pp. 3–25). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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Exclusion and Exemption Clauses of ATI/FOI Laws From a functionalist, Liberal Pluralist and Marxist Perspective

Access to Information (ATI) and Freedom of Information (FOI) laws are intended to provide formal mechanisms with which members of the public can require government agencies to release public records. However, a common perception amongst academic researchers is that ATI/FOI laws serve the interests of the state more than member of the public. The ATI/FOI laws have been criticized as facilitating both transparency and secrecy (Larsen, 2013).

For the purpose of this analysis, I will hold a position that ATI/FOI laws were created by the government for their own interests of protecting the release of certain information from the public. The analysis will focus on the the exemption and exclusion clauses that access laws contain, as well as the role that discretion plays in the release of certain information. I will explain the function of ATI/FOI laws from functionalist, liberal-pluralist, and Marxist perspectives.

Functionalists believe that social control is necessary if society is to flourish (Comack, 2006). A functionalist would argue that because, as individuals, we are self-interested and egotistical, ATI/FOI laws are necessary in order to control the access and spread of government information for self-serving purposes that could be harmful to the state. The exemption and exclusion clauses in fact protect the state.

Functionalists utilize an “organic analogy” (Comack, 2006). They would see ATI/FOI laws are simply a small part of the structure in society that functions to maintain harmony and stability.  Functionalists would argue these laws are a essentially a source of order in society, and serve to mitigate potential conflicts.

Liberal pluralists see society as consisting of groups with competing interests who are in a competition for power.  Although liberal pluralists view that state as an impartial umpire, they would draw attention towards the question of the origins of the laws when acknowledging the concepts of power and conflict. They may inquire as to what vested interest groups played a role in the emergence of the ATI/FOI laws.

The underlying question that liberal pluralists would attempt to emphasize would be: “If laws originate from the moral inclinations of the more powerful in society, and if the agents of law (police and judges) utilize their discretionary power in ways that might disadvantage those with whom they come into contact, then is justice really blind?” (Comack, 2006, p33)

Marxists argue that consensus is not natural, it must be artificially created and manufactured by the ruling class (Comack, 2006). In fact, they view law as a form of ideology, a value-laden position. Marxists would argue that the exclusionary clauses of ATI/FOI laws were created simply to protect the ruling class.

Instrumental Marxists argue that law itself is a weapon of class rule. ATI/FOI would be seen laws are a means of protecting property and consolidating political power, as Instrumental Marxists view law as inherently political.

Structural Marxists would view ATI/FOI laws as a form of accumulation and legitimation. The exclusionary laws protect the interests of the state, while other clauses of the laws actually legitimize and maintain conditions of social harmony by making information available to the public.

In conclusion, there are vast interpretations regarding the nature and purpose of exclusionary and exemption classes of ATI/FOI laws from different socio-legal schools of thought. Yet all three perspectives (functionalist, liberal pluralist and Marxist) agree that ATI/FOI laws were created to manage conflicts and competing interests of different parties, classes and individuals.


Comack, E. (2006). Theoretical Approaches in the Sociology of Law: Theoretical Excursions. In E. Comack (Ed.), Locating law: race/class/gender/sexuality connections (2nd ed., pp. 18–67). Halifax, NS: Fernwood Pub

Larsen, M. (2013). Access in the Academy: Bringing ATI and FOI to Academic Research. BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association. Retrieved from donations/Donate?ID=1552&AID=2700

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Employment Concerns Due to Previous Usage of ATI/FOI

The terms freedom of information and access to information may be used interchangeably. Generally, FOI refers to freedom of information and are usually requests that are made under provincial acts whereas ATI known as Access to Information are requests made under federal acts.  At the federal level, the Privacy Act governs the use, disclosure, and collection of personal information which all individuals are permitted to only access information about themselves through a process of request. Since, access to information and freedom of information recognize the legal right for an individual to access public records about themselves; there has been concern that individual who request information may be using information given by the state to gain further research information of the government secrecy. Therefore, these individuals are more inclined to be under the radar of the government surveillance. In addition employment within the field of government would increase difficulty in seeking a job position.

Drawing from Michel Foucault’s theory looks into the importance of how power, knowledge and subjects all work together to create social forms, laws etc.. Furthermore, Foucault emphasises “We should admit rather that power produces knowledge…that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations…the subject who knows, the objects to be known and the modalities of knowledge must be regarded as so many effects of these fundamental implication of power-knowledge and their historical transformation” (Pavlich pg.139). In this sociological theory from Michel Foucault we observe that the value of power, subjects, and knowledge working together as a team to form laws as well as social norms. The power of knowledge through the work of a subject that hold knowledge which leads to power can make historical transformations as Foucault states. In this particular theory I believe it is strongly related to a concern to those who want or plan to seek an occupation within the government. Reason being, with individuals who possess knowledge have a clearer understanding of how the government functions and therefore with more knowledge leads to greater power once employed into a position within the government.

Another sociological theory Michel Foucault looks another type of power which is governmentality. The word government did not refer to political structures or the management of a state, but rather it was designed as a method in which the conduct of group or individuals might be directed towards (Sokhi-Bulley, 2014). The power of governance is a way of gatekeeping which individuals are employed and whom does not. This has largely to do with the definition of governance and how it’s definition may be warped overtime. Since individuals who seek information through the process of access to information or freedom of information. The secrecy and privatization of the government has an impact in determining who gets employed into a government position.

Theory of law has always been about power. Finnis looks in the area of natural law where he believes that natural law is nothing other than a theory of good reasons for choice. He emphasis that practical reasoning is crucial not only to law but generally to how we live our lives, because practical reasoning allow us to hold the basic values of human existence and thus, too, the basic principles of all moral reasoning (Pavlich, pg. 34)

Practical reasoning is a way to reveal moral ways of acting, moreover it cannot be derived from human nature but practical nurturing of the human to use moral reasoning. Yet, in regards to determining those who seek employment in the government. However, the practical reasoning of determining who gets employed and who doesn’t should base its reasoning not by who has used a process of ATI or FOI, but be unbiased towards individuals who have used ATI and FOI to gain information about themselves.

Moreover, Finnis argues, “It is never possible to have a value free description and analysis of law. By expressly focusing on the moral dimensions of law, he argues that ‘natural law theory tries to do openly, critical and discussably, what most other analytical and descriptive theorists do covertly and dogmatically” (Pavlich, Pg.36).  ATI and FOI should have its acts such as the Access to Information Act, as well as Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. These should be open to the public’s right to access information about them and should not then be further questioned or put under the radar for the assumption of gaining information about them which translates to a greater possibility to harm governmental procedures.


Bal Sokhi-Bulley, B. (n.d.). Governmentality: Notes on the Thought of Michel Foucault. Retrieved December 5, 2014.
Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society. Canada: Oxford University Press.

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Parliament hill shooting a smoke screen

​On October 22 2014, a young Michael Zehaf-Bibeau attacked parliament hill. He
appeared in Ottawa with an assault rifle, and a motive, to break into parliament, and kill
the prime minister, and any other MP’s he could. He managed to kill a soldier standing
guard at a war memorial nearby, but upon entering parliament, he was killed before he
could get anyone else. The country was in a state of shock. People could not believe
what had happened. Canada had never experienced an international terrorist attack,
especially one that struck so close to the chest (our parliament building). The reaction
by the Harper Conservatives however, is where the real nightmare begins. As the
Harper government introduce new bills to further strengthen its surveillance abilities on
Canadians, many begin to question whether or not it is warranted. Eric Wright describes
how Harper made the connection between an earlier hit and run terrorist attack on a
soldier in Quebec, without any evidence to suggest the two incidences were related.
Voices of condemnation regarding Harper’s newest terror initiatives have been
sprouting up in the New Democrat Party.

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democrat Party, has already signaled the
Parties issues regarding the Conservative governments response to the Parliament Hill
attack. Mulcair has pointed out that the shooter on Parliament Hill was a criminal with
mental health issues, rather than a terrorist. In fact the shooter on Parliament hill was
described as behaving erratically, living in a homeless shelter in the days before the
shooting (Jordan, 2014). No link has ever been found between any international terrorist
organizations, and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s attack on parliament (Wright, 2014). In fact
the shooter has never been found to be in contact with any organization. He has been
described as having severe personality and mental disorders, and in these frequenting
mental states, he eventually decided to become a fighter for Islam (Jordan, 2014). This
was an attack he carried out on his own. However the Harper government considered it
an attack carried out by a terror organization. There is no evidence to suggest that the
terrorist organization, ISIS ever knew of, or had any involvement with Michael Zehaf-
Bibeau. So why would the government go in this direction, making these accusations,
and passing new laws extending the arm of surveillance in Canada? Because it gives
the government a greater degree of social control.
Just as alexis Ohanion, founder of Reddit pointed out, the NSA in the United
States is engaged in a surveillance program against its own citizens which emphasizes
a “collect everything” agenda. The Canadian government is also interested in engaging
in a similar program here in Canada for several reasons, including industry development
in Canada. However this can also be aligned with a need for increased security
surveillance over Canadians, not just exclusive to Muslim Canadians, but to any and all
Canadians that any Candian governments feel may pose a threat of any kind, even if that threat fails to extend any further than inconvenient protests regarding policy

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Concerns of Students filling out ATI/FOI Forms

When some students are first introduced to the topic of Access to Information (ATI)/ Freedom of Information (FOI) they have some concerns. This includes that filling out a report might ‘put them on radar’ or identify them as ‘people to watch out for’. It has been noted that it is a particular concern to those who plan to seek employment within the government (example police officer).

“Access to Information gives Canadian citizens, permanent residents, or any person or corporation present in Canada a right to access information that is contained in government records (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat – Access to Information).”

Freedom of Information allows “the public to request and obtain copies of records held by B.C. government ministries or the Office of the Premier, when those records are not routinely available (B.C. Government – Freedom of Information).”

The Official Version of Law is supposed to be impartial, neutral, and an objective system for resolving social conflict. As well as her decisions are supposed to be measured and precise. However this does not seem to be the case since some students have expressed concerns about filling out a report(s) to obtain ATI and FOI record(s). If the Official Version of Law was actually neutral and objective students wouldn’t feel like it would ‘put them on radar’ or identify them as ‘people to watch out for’. However no student would ever be straight out told that they are being denied the job because of the information they wanted to obtain about the government as a student as that would violate their rights. This being said it does not mean that just because people have rights to access these records that it will not be used against them, which I believe, goes against what the Official Version of Law is supposed to be.

I think this concern is relevant as just because one has the right to access ATI and FOI records it doesn’t mean that it won’t be on record and someone might use it against them in the future after they have graduated school and now are applying for jobs that may be in the government. As no student would ever be able to prove that they are being denied the job over their request for records it does make it more challenging. I think social jurisprudence would help explain this to some degree as it is interested in the study of the actual social effects of the law. The law states that you can fill out a form and get information however it does not include anything about who can access what you have requested or not and if your name would be attached to it.

Legal realism by Frank can also help explain this as he says all judges view facts of a case differently based on their internal psychological processes and perceptions. This can be applied to this as employers may few someone viewing files as something that matters or something that is no big deal. Also the files someone accessed that are viewed as bad or not depending on the department of the government or what the person exposed opening up public access to government records. This may make the employer wonder what else they make expose to the public at a later date and time something about the government.

There is no way to predict the outcome of filling out an ATI or FOI report. This being said with the ‘theory of law’ in mind that it should have no implication on a government job, as it is a legal right to access documents about the government. The laws were made so that citizens could have access and study some of the information that only the government has access to. In Canada we have the rights to access information and freedom to information if they did not want this they would have no made these rules.

Overall I think it is a valid concern of students however I do not think it would stop me from filling out a report for ATI or FOI. The laws and rights were put place to protect the government information and at the same time give me access to some information.


Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat – Access to Information

B.C. Government – Freedom of Information

Mike Larsen Lecture Notes

Week 3 – Positivism and Sociological Jurisprudence

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Reforms for the Access to Information Act that the Federal Government are Hesitant to Reform

 Locate and briefly discuss one call for the reform of Canada’s Access to Information Act. This could take the form of a government report, an NGO report, a media article, or an academic article. Drawing on one or more socio-legal theories, explain why the federal government has not reformed the ATIA in response to this call. For example, you could reflect on the functions of ATI/FOI laws, the relationship secrecy and bureaucracy, the ideology of Access, or the relationship between ATI/FOI and sovereign power.

In an article written by CBC in July 2012 labeled “Action to Access to Information Act turns 30 amid calls for reform”, illustrated two important issues regarding the need to reform the Access to Information Act. The first issue raised was that receiving information after applying for access to information took commonly longer than the estimated time frame. The second issue raised was the frustration of journalists when the Cabinet confidence exemption is utilized.

The Access to Information Act came into effect on July 1st, 1983 (CBC, 2012). This act allowed individuals in society to apply for public records that were not disclosed to the public by the government. By following a bureaucratic process of submitting forms, an individual would be able to receive public records from the government. However since its enactment 30 years ago there has been much frustration and demand for reform. The issue of requests taking longer than the 30 day deadline has started to become much more common. In the CBC article the rate of extension to information request increased by 18.6 percent. What is even more problematic was that situations in which a requester got absolutely no information increased by 49.1 percent (CBC, 2012). There was great demand for the reform of the act to make sure that extensions would decrease. The commissioner of information Suzanne Legault first response to this issue was that there was indeed an issue with the government not complying to the legislation that outline the deadline for information to be delivered. She stated that she was trying to push for her and her department to have more power to distribute information if the access to information request was taking too long. However in an interview with CBC a short while after she stated that “I just think we need to have a basic timeline that is more defined than what we have now, which basically says a ‘reasonable extension under the circumstances (CBC, 2012)”.

The second reform to the Access to Information Act that many journalists advocate for is that the act minimizes the usage of Cabinet confidence exemption. Under the law a department can withhold information if the information is deemed to be utilized to make decisions (CBC, 2012). However as the CBC article states the number of exemptions that have occurred due to Cabinet confidence exemption is the size of “Mack Truck” (CBC, 2012). Certain information can be thrown into this exemption simply if it could embarrass a minister if it became public. The commissioner of information briefly stated that there needs to be a balance between what should be kept secret within the government and what should be disclosed to the public.

The question that arises from the issue of the government prolonging the time frame to disperse information as well as increase the amount of requesters who receive no information can be explained through the use of Marxist’s theory. Marxist’s theory is based on the belief that laws are created to benefit the elite class while exploiting the working class (Pavlich, 2011). The elite class needs to maintain the interests of a capitalist’s society, and therefore exploiting the working class does this. By not providing information to the public, or denying access to information the government is able to protect information that may bring awareness to the working class the many ways they are being exploited. This could disrupt the interests of the elite class. Marxist theory therefore can illustrate that the function of ATI/FOI laws is to protect the interests of the elite class.

Another important aspect of Marxism that can outline the reasoning as to why the government has not made the requested reforms to the Access to Information Act is due to the fact that “access” is an ideology. Marxist stated that the state utilized ideologies to hide injustices (Pavlich, 2011). The government appears to be transparent as it allows for individuals within a society to apply for information. Therefore all information is deemed to be available. However what makes access an ideology is due to the numerous exceptions that are in place to withhold information from the public. As the CBC articles outlines the government is able to withhold information utilizing the cabinet confidence exemption. In addition the government is able to continuously prolong the amount of time it takes to deliver access to information requests without any penalty. Therefore access is an ideology, for as a society we are taught that we can access all information when in reality this belief (ideology), is suppressing the fact that the government is withholding information, which is unjust.


 CBC News (2012). Action to Access to Information Act turns 30 amid calls for reform. Retrieved



Pavlich, George (2011). Law & Society Redefined. New York: Oxford University Press.

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