Sunday, February 22, 2009

It depends on what the meaning of the word "transcript" is

That's the Clintonian parsing of a CP access to information request by the Privy Council Office. The PCO is refusing to release handwritten notes taken during listeriosis conference calls on that basis: "Harper government withholds listeriosis notes." On the heels of the revelations last week about how Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) is stifling access requests by charging up front preparation fees, this denial of information by the Privy Council Office elevates the problem to the highest level in the federal government and demonstrates the lengths to which this government will go in order to deny information requests. This excuse for non-production is a classic:
The Harper government has delayed for months the release of notes on conference calls held at the height of last summer's deadly listeriosis outbreak — a lag some experts say breaks Ottawa's own information laws.

At issue is an Access to Information request by The Canadian Press to the Privy Council Office for “all transcripts and minutes” of the crucial exchanges last August and September.

Officials were grappling at the time with a health crisis that sparked intense scrutiny of the national food safety system.

Twenty Canadians died after developing listeriosis, an outbreak that was traced to meat-processing equipment at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto.

Privy Council officials at first said they had records as requested, but needed four months “to consult other government institutions” about them.

Then Ann Wesch, the access to information director for PCO, wrote a letter dated Feb. 10 stating that in fact “the records retrieved do not fall under the scope of this request. Therefore we have no records relevant to your request.

The explanation for the flip-flop? Records retrieved were handwritten notes — not minutes or transcripts, said the PCO analyst questioned about the response.

This, despite the fact that the word transcribe is in part defined in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as “make a copy of, esp. in writing . . . write out (shorthand, notes, etc.) . . . .” (emphasis added)
It's stretching, it's hypocritical in light of production of handwritten notes by Agriculture Canada, as noted in the article, and it's the unaccountable, secretive Harper government at work.

So...they won't produce them to the press, wonder if their listeriosis investigator with no subpoena power will have any luck either?