Monday, March 01, 2010

The upside of an acting Information Commissioner

She has nothing to lose: "Access czar investigating allegations of political interference." Suzanne Legault, the acting Access to Information Commissioner, is doing her job, pursuing mounting abuses of the access to information system by the Conservatives:
Canada's Access to Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is investigating allegations of systemic violations of Access to Information laws by federal Conservatives as a result of a story in last week's issue of The Hill Times, but Tory staffers also allege the interference continues despite the PMO's edict to all political staffers to comply with the law.
"I can confirm that I have received a complaint from the NDP referenced in recent media reports...there will be an investigation," Ms. Legault wrote in an email. "In any case where there is evidence of an offence under our Act I may refer the matter to the Attorney General of Canada as is also provided under our legislation."
The Hill Times has further damaging allegations of abuse of the system today from anonymous Conservative staffers. The allegations point directly to the PMO as an ongoing source of direction to interfere with the access to information:
"The environment of openness is covered by a blanket of issues management...the PMO looks at the release of anything contentious as something to be blocked as opposed to something to prepare for," the staffer wrote. "Staff have moved from flagging contentious issues...and preparing responses, to the now carte blanche orders of blocking or obstructing releases."(emphasis added)
This is very troubling information that affirms once again the anti-democratic tendencies of the Harper government. The Information Commissioner is acting properly in response by pursuing investigations. The fact that Conservative staffers are coming forward to tell us what is going on behind the scenes makes the allegations all the more pressing to pursue.

Remember, Legault was appointed to a six month contract on July 1, 2009 (or thereabouts). The contract was renewed again, meaning that she will continue on in that position until July 1, 2010. Her status is something to watch:
Legault applied for the permanent job but declined comment on why the government hasn’t filled it. A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson couldn’t say when a permanent commissioner will be named.

But the earliest an appointment could be confirmed likely would be early April, thanks to prorogation.

The information commissioner must be approved by both the House of Commons and Senate, neither of which sits again until March. The nominee also appears before parliamentary committees — once they are reconstituted following prorogation.
Will Harper remove her from her post and replace her with, say, an estate lawyer? That is the big question. The optics of removing her, while she is in the midst of investigations for blocking access to information, would be terrible.