The federal government has revealed the reforms it plans to make to the Access to Information Act (ATIA). I had hoped to see proposals for how the public’s interest in unfettered scientific communications would be protected in law. Unfortunately, there are none. Comment from the Information Commissioner is needed. Members of Parliament should also raise their concerns in Question Period and during debate.
Last Friday I called attention to the lack of visible progress in the Information Commissioner’s investigation into the Harper government’s muzzling of federal scientists. Recent events that precipitated concerns about the investigation included:
It has now exceeded four years (1548 days and counting as of this writing).
The Commissioner’s 2016-17 Annual Report did not mention the muzzling investigation.
The Commissioner wrote that she “would not seek reappointment as Information Commissioner” and that she “was appointed for an interim period of six months beginning on June 29, 2017”.
This rare chance to update the ATIA makes the need for a final report on the muzzling investigation urgent. As I wrote on Friday, I am not overly concerned about the Commissioner’s conclusions:
“If [the Commissioner] finds that the Harper government’s muzzling of scientists was illegal, then this sets a standard to which future governments must adhere. If she finds, on the other hand, that the muzzle was legal, then this exposes a significant defect in the law that should be remedied by the Trudeau government. It is important to give them the opportunity.”
In an earlier post, I made four suggestions for how the ATIA could be adjusted should a defect in the law be discovered. In particular, I pointed out that rules to protect the public’s interest in unfettered scientific communications were needed. The suggestions were not addressed. Without a report from the Information Commissioner, the muzzling issue is not even on the federal government’s radar.
So, we need the Information Commissioner to report. What’s more, we also need Members of Parliament to raise this issue in Question Period and during debate. The proposed changes to the Access to Information Act do not address a key way that the federal government thwarts the public’s right to know. If the federal government is not able to address the muzzling issue presently, then they should be asked to commit to make changes during their mandated one-year review of the revised ATIA.