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 http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/Research