Governments afraid to open up information, presenter says

James McLeod
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The access to information review committee heard from Michael Karanicolas, representing the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy this morning.

Michael Karanicolas, representing the Halifax-based Centre for Law and
Democracy. — Photo courtesy of Centre for Law and Democracy website

Karanicolas said that in work right around the world, governments are afraid of opening up and disseminating more information.

He began with an anecdote about a Newfoundland and Labrador minister walking into a cabinet meeting, pulling out reams of documents, placing them on the table, and then immediately putting them away.

By the letter of the law, all those documents would become cabinet documents, and therefore would be completely off limits to public disclosure.

ATIPPA review committee chairman Clyde Wells balked at that, saying that if a minister did something like that, it would be "fraudulent" and unlikely to ever actually happen.

Karanicolas replied that as somebody who works for an organization that evaluates the law, he looks at ways it can be abused.

"Overwhelmingly, my experience is that governments use every loophole that they can," he said.

The Centre for Law and Democracy was at the centre of the Bill 29 debate, when they said that Newfoundland and Labrador access to information puts the province behind some developing nations in terms of the right to access.

Then-justice minister Felix Collins derided the centre as a "two-bit outfit" that had no legitimacy assessing the law.

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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Recent comments

  • Kurt Sampson
    July 25, 2014 - 07:24

    Real lawyers usually work wherever they're promised the most coin. I have extreme respect for lawyers who are willing to sacrifice some personal wealth to make a real positive difference. Transparency, or the lack thereof, is one of the biggest systematic issues facing governments historically & currently across the globe, and I for one am very appreciative of the work that Michael & the Centre are doing.

  • Michael D.
    July 24, 2014 - 13:28

    Real lawyers do not work for law think tanks or law societies.

    • Pat
      July 24, 2014 - 20:55

      On the contrary, lawyers that work for NGOs like this are more in aware of the actual law than private practicioners or government lawyers who are beholden to clients or elected officials.