Radio Freethinker

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Posts Tagged ‘Information Commissioner’

Best of RFT – the 200s

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 30, 2013

dewar cartoon july 24 2013 col.jpg

This week a recasting our some of our best bits from episodes past:

  • Librarians and loyalties,
  • Panda Politics,
  • Suing for information
  • The Parliamentary Budget Office – pillar of democracy

Download the episode here!

Librarians and loyalties

Ottawa,fonction publique,Mix & Remix,pastiche,Elizabeth II,Stephen HarperDon reviews changes to the Code of Conduct for Library and Archives of Canada. The insistence of a ‘duty of loyalty’ to the government as opposed to the nation of Canada strikes as tones of totalitarianism. In the light of many other policies, decisions and legislation  one can not help but get the feeling Harper things HE is the nation, civil servants can’t be trusted and the less the people know the better for the government.

Find out more:

Panda Politics

547676_584686418216612_1260358425_nPandas has been an intricate part of Chinese diplomacy for centuries. Since the 1970’s the People Republic has used them to open the doors to the non-communist world.

Two of the bi-coloured fur balls are not in Canada; what does it mean, why did we get them and what did we give up? Could our Prime Minster spend his time doing something more important than pimping Pandas?

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The Parliamentary Budget Office – pillar of democracy

Direction,budget,ParlementCanada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer has recently stepped down. It is likely that his office will be “wound down” because it proved to be too embarrassing for the Harper Government even though it was the Conservative Governments own creation. We discuss what it did, why it did it and  why you should care.

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Suing for information.

101007InformationcWe discuss the efforts of Canada’s Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault to investigating whether the Harper government is living up to the law of the land. Legault is currently suing the DOD over a 1100 day extension on a 30 day Access to Information Request which she claims is deliberately obstructive and violating the principles of the Access to Information act.

We talk about how the Harper government has systematically restricted our access to information and the people who make it. As well as the push back by Legault as well as Democracy Watch and U of Vic’s Environmental Law Clinic.

Find out more:


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Suing for Access

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 17, 2013

The making information inaccessible


While it is too early to say things may be getting better in our government…in the arena of providing information to its citizens about what it is doing…or at least funding to have done. There may be a light at the end of the stone-walling tunnel.

PBO-department-responsesI have often talked about the shutting down of the flow of material/information by government agencies and employees to the public. Information essential for the operation of a rational democratic nation. Be it the suppression of our scientist, the delaying tactics used by House committees or even Harper’s own created Parliamentary Budget Office (who is currently in the course demanding documents to allow it to do the job it was set up to do).

Well, in a response to a complaint filed jointly by Democracy Watch and University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic, Canada’s Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, announced her office will be investigating whether the Harper government is living up to the law of the land.

In this case, The Access to Information Act, states that an access to information request must be answered within 30 days but allows departments to grant themselves extensions.

acco_repparl_2011accessinformationact_image_2_1347596657712_engEarlier this year Legault publicly complained that even with generous terms given the Government, they were still exceeding their own ‘extended’ deadlines. She noted that the response times have increased notably since the Conservatives gained a majority.

Just to give context, the law states that all requests MUST be fulfilled within 30 days, however it does provide each department a ‘get out of jail free card’ in allowing them to extend that deadline (for really any reason). SO, when they don’t meet a deadline, that is the arbitrary deadline they themselves created.

Government officials complain the nature of the requests and complexities of government make requests harder to fulfill.

Legault dismisses this stating that there’s no clear evidence that requests are becoming more complex to process. It should be noted that improvements in digital records should actually increase efficiency and reduce response times[1].

acco_repparl_2011accessinformationact_image_3_1347596726196_engBesides this complaint, The Information Commissioner is taking the Department of Defense to court over an information request which the department slapped with a 1,100 day extension…so, the 30 day deadline was extended to over 3 years.

An extension that is being argued as deliberately obstructive and violating the principles of the Access to Information act. You must wonder what they are hiding.

In an interview on CBC, it was pointed out that by 2011, less than 20 percent of access to information requests made to federal departments and agencies were met with a full disclosure of the information requested.

RedactedLet’s put that into context. So you may have seen online ‘information request responses’ where there are large parts blacked out…for security reasons I am sure <not!>…what this is saying that even when they do provide you the requested document, 80% of the time it is edited (and often heavily edited). We are all familiar with the word ‘redacted’ by now.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that an international survey last year ranked Canada 55th out of 93 countries in terms of its access to information laws.

A press release by Reporters Without Borders, in a ranking of countries on its media freedom survey dropped Canada 10 positions from the previous survey to No. 20 out of 90. This group cites as the reason for the drop was due to obstruction of journalists during the so-called ‘Maple Spring’ student protests and to continuing threats to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and internet users’ personal data, in particular, from the C-30 Bill on cyber-crime.”

Torstar Redaction ComicRemember C-30 where Harper’s parrot stated “your either with us or the terr…er, pedophiles! Damn commies” <sorry parts are editorial; he did compare those who believe in privacy as supporters of pedophilia>.

Our access to information law was created in 1983 and has not been updated since. When first promulgated it was the envy of the world, now we are the old man in the corner saying inappropriate things at the international conferences. I.e. most nations have far surpassed our standards, most notably updates because of the information technology revolution.

According to a report card issued by Legault last year on the timeliness that requests that were fulfilled, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the department of Northern and Indian Affairs, and Transport Canada were given “F” grades.

downloadIn response to the many loopholes that exist in the Access to Information Laws across Canada, the lack of enforcement and lack of audits to ensure people are following the law in some jurisdictions, in their entirety to the Information Commissioner, Democracy Watch and the Open Government Coalition call for the following 8 key changes:

  1. If the government partly pays for it, is involved in it, it’s a result of government legislation or it significantly impacts public interests, then a record of actions must be created by said entity.
  2. The default position is ALL documents should be publicly available unless it fails a “harms test” and even then, if public interest is paramount, should be made available in their entirety.
  3. All entities, previously defined, are compelled to create a detailed record of all decisions, actions, transactions, factual research, policy research and correspondence. That such a record should be efficiently and promptly indexed. There should be nameable individuals responsible for the creation of the records and the index.
  4. The database created by point 3, should be accessible by anyone without restriction for those who undertaking “authorized” reporting or research, and only a token fee (to prevent frivolous use applied to individual citizens.
  5. Anyone who does research, factual or policy, should have unfettered and free access to discuss their research to the media and public.
  6. Responsible individuals who fail to create records, indexes or accessible database should be subject to severe penalties. Individuals responsible for unjustifiable redaction or delays should also be subject to severe penalties.
  7. The Information Commissioner should be given power commiserate to their positions. This would include the ability to levy penalties of individuals, departments or entities who fail to uphold the Access to Information Acts. They should also have the power to order the immediate release of information that has been deemed unjustifiably classified, redacted, or delayed. The Commissioner should also be empowered to compel departments to enact procedures to ensure compliance to the law.
  8. The funding to ensure compliance with Access to Information requests (including the necessary documentation and indexing) be a priority in all budgeting.
  9. Parliament must be required to review the ATI Act every 5 years to ensure that problem areas are corrected.”

This gets even more convoluted when we factor in the perhaps intentional collateral blocks. Legault, who has been at her job for three years, says her office — which suffered an 8 per cent budget cut — has dealt with about 7,000 complaints with another 2,000 left to go.

14059_562029463815641_1642093719_nFirst, that works out to over 6 complaints a day. The government itself states that information requests have doubled over the last decade. This is because what was once publicly available information has now been put behind the “Great FireWall of Harper” of information, data that would have previously been readily available on government/institution/academic websites is now considered “government secrets” and thus is only available IF someone makes an information request. Of course, because this is new to the Canadian political landscape, the number of requests for information request has also increased.

Legault says that in the last six months, she’s seen a sharp rise in the number of complaints about departments that improperly delay responses to access-to-information requests. Which she attributes to budget cuts…which leads to staff cuts…which leads to reduction of service, in this instance the information you are requesting.

MAC2083-1024x866And here is where we end, the circle complete. Harper wants to shut down the flow of information about what government is doing for/to the people. The Conservative government can use its soft power by rewriting loyalty oaths directing departments to ‘shut up’. This will inevitably run up against the ‘loyal to Canada and not Harper’ bureaucracy (yes, I still have faith that some public servants what to do a good job) who are providing push back against these oaths. So to help nursemaid the process…the silencing of the information…the Harper government continues to cut funding to departments, which results in a reduction of staffing. Less people to do the work means an increase to response time to information requests…at least until the next election or parliamentary vote has passed…or so I imagine Harper thinking.


[1] Unless, of course, the Harper government is worried that something might slip out that is either negative to his conservative agenda or may run contrary to the Harper line. Therefore, EVERYTHING sent out must first be reviewed (by politicos) to ensure the purity of the message.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 206 – Election Quiz Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 9, 2013


This week:
– Goodbye Roger,
– Suing for information
, and
– The Humanist Report – Election Quiz,

Download the episode here!


Goodbye Robert

roger-ebert-360xx272-229-45-59Film critic Roger Ebert passed this past week, obviously Ebert will be remembered for his appreciation for films of all kinds, for his witty writing and thought provoking movie reviews. What I find interesting is how much one might consider Ebert a skeptic and humanist, even though, he didn’t really identify as one.

Find out more:

Suing for information.

We discuss the efforts of Canada’s Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault to investigating whether the Harper government is living up to the law of the land. Legault is currently suing the DOD over a 1100 day extension on a 30 day Access to Information Request which she claims is deliberately obstructive and violating the principles of the Access to Information act.

We talk about how the Harper government has systematically restricted our access to information and the people who make it. As well as the push back by Legault as well as Democracy Watch and U of Vic’s Environmental Law Clinic.

Find out more:

Humanist Report – Election Quiz & Atheist Church

dbb4_bIan Bushfield drops by the RFT virtual studio to give us our semi-regular Humanist Report. We discussed the Atheist Church movement, Gideon Bible, upcoming Humanist polling project, science and teaching, the upcoming BC Election and the questionnaire being distributed by the BC Humanist Association to candidates.

Ian was acting both as the current Executive Director of the BC Humanist Association as well as just himself.


Register to VOTE here!!!


Skeptic Highlights

CFI Freethinkers Book Club: The Believing Brain – Saturday April 13th 2013 at 1pm at the Grind and Gallery Coffee Bar – Event Link on Facebook

CFI’s The Science of Vaccines: A Panel Discussion – Friday, April 26th 2013 at 7:00 pmThe panel will discuss the reasons why vaccines are one of the foundations of public health and take questions on the creation of vaccines, how they work, and more. The panel features Dr. Jamie Scott: Professor in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and the Faculty of Health Sciences at SFU, Dr. David Scheifele: Director, Vaccine Evaluation Center (VEC) at BC Children’s Hospital and Professor of Pediatrics (Infectious Diseases) UBC, and Dr. Monika Naus: Medical Director, Immunization Programs & Vaccine Preventable Diseases, BCCDC. The Event will take place in Room 1700, SFU Harbour Centre. Event Link Here.

CFI Presents George Hrab at the Railway Club – Sunday, April 28th 2013 at 6:00 pm at The Railway Club, 579 Dunsmuir St, Vancouver – In addition to the two hour set George is performing on stage at the Railway Club, there will be limited tickets available for a private reception in the back bar where you can meet and socialize with George and fellow attendees and even hear an acoustic set from George. You can purchase tickets at

Revolutionary Horizons: Debating the Democratic Potential of the Internet

The role of the Internet and social media in recent global uprisings has received much attention. Popular claims that the internet and social media are revolutionary tools for social change are frequently countered by charges of ‘slacktivism’. Jodi Dean and Andrew Feenberg are two critical theorists who have contributed much to developing highly enlightening but distinct perspectives on the relationship between networked technology and politics. This  event will bring these two esteemed scholars together to debate how we can best understand the role of the internet in shaping the possibilities and limitations of collective action today.

Organized as a part of the CounterCulture Speaker Series run by the Media Democracy Project, School of Communication and the SFU Institute for the Humanities.

When: Friday, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 7:00 PM
Where: SFU Harbour Center, Fletcher Challenge Theatre (Room #1900), Vancouver
Cost: Free

Dark Secrets of the Universe

As part of the Space Centers Women in science, they present a talk by Dr. Stéphanie Côté. There is a lot more to the Universe than meets the eye. In fact astronomers have now determined that most of the content of the Universe is formed by dark matter and the even more mysterious dark energy. They are called ‘dark’ because these phenomena do not emit any light and are therefore invisible to our current methods of direct detection. This is one of the big mysteries that Dr. Côté will discuss.

 When: Thursday, Apr 11th, 2013 @ 7:00 PM
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, Vancouver
By donation

International Workshop: Capitalism, Inequality and Democracy

For a very long time inequality, income and wealth disparity have been on the rise, not only in Canada but around the world. Join us as our invited experts discuss the causes behind this unfortunate reality as well as its implications for political democracy and the interplay between market and state.

Starts – 
Friday, Apr 12th, 2013 @ 6:00 PM
Ends – Saturday , Apr 13th, 2013 @ 5:00 PM
C.K. Choi Building, UBC, Vancouver er
Free (although an optional lunch costs $15)

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