Wednesday, March 25, 2009

NB Should Follow Ontario's lead on open meetings

Follow Ontario's lead on open meetings

Published Wednesday March 25th, 2009

The municipal council of LaSalle, Ontario, found itself in the hot seat recently. At a closed-door meeting of council, it voted to sell the town hall.

Ontario, like New Brunswick, has an open meetings law. Council and committee meetings must be open to the public unless the statute specifically provides otherwise. There are reasonable exceptions, of course. But the intent of the law is that council and committee meetings should be in public.

Ontario's law used to be identical to that of New Brunswick. Not long ago, Ontario took it a bit further. Now, when someone complains that a meeting was closed when it should have been open, an investigation must take place at the expense of the municipality.

The Windsor Star tried to get documentation of the alleged sale. It was told that the meeting had been held in camera. Thus, no documentation had to be released. The Star complained.

According to Amberley Gavel, the firm hired by LaSalle to look into the closed-meeting complaints, councillors didn't discuss or vote on the sale of the town hall at the meeting complained of. But certain comments of the mayor led it to believe that if the sale wasn't discussed at that closed meeting, it was discussed at another. This should have been done "at a duly constituted public meeting, open to the public."

Why do we mention this? Because if it had happened in New Brunswick, there wouldn't be any real remedy outside of a lawsuit. We have an open meetings law too. Unlike Ontario, there is no responsibility on the part of a municipality or the provincial government to see that it is obeyed.

There is no exception in the statute for so-called "working sessions" or "committee of the whole" meetings of council. Save for the listed exceptions, which are admittedly vague and badly undefined, the meetings must be open to the public.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Aussie Cabinet documents FOI exemptions to be narrowed

Cabinet documents not exempt under FoI
March 25, 2009 - 9:14AM
Documents marked "cabinet in confidence" won't necessarily remain confidential and exempt from Freedom of Information (FoI) laws.

And wheeling documents in and out of the cabinet room just to keep them secret is out, says Special Minister of State John Faulkner.

Senator Faulkner on Monday outlined sweeping FoI changes, honouring a Labor election commitment.

The changes made clear that documents could not be kept secret simply by marking them "cabinet in confidence".

That term will be narrowed so that it only applied to documents prepared for the dominant purpose of submissions to cabinet.

Right to Know Event: Dr. Shiva Chopra

Right to Know Event: Dr. Shiva Chopra 

DATE: MARCH 26, 2009

The Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia is pleased to present a talk by Dr. Shiva Chopra, Health Canada Scientist and Food Safety Whistleblower, in Alumni Hall (NAB, King's campus), on March 26, 2009, at 7:30 p.m.

Lecture details: Are private interests impacting food and health safety? How is the Canadian government dealing with adverse or critical findings by Health Canada Scientists? How do we ensure a safe food supply for the public?

Chopra, the author of Corrupt to the Core: Memoirs of a Health Canada Whistleblower, worked with his colleagues on such initiatives as preventing approval of harmful drugs, raising early attention to avoidable sources of Mad Cow Disease, and questioning the Anthrax scare.

The Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia is a not-for-profit organization that encourages the use and development of Freedom-of-information legislation to foster a better informed and more politically active electorate and to improve the quality of public and private decision making.

For more information, please visit the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia event listing here.

Faulkner plan to change Australia government culture to disclosure under FOI

Faulkner plan to change government culture to disclosure under FOI

Christian Kerr | March 24, 2009

Article from: The Australian

FREEDOM of information applications will be cheaper and potential embarrassment will no longer be an excuse for keeping government documents secret under a proposal to radically alter the FOI Act.

At the Australia's Right to Know conference in Sydney today, Special Minister of State John Faulkner released two draft bills for FOI reform that he says will promote a new system and culture of pro-disclosure for government information. 

They represent the most significant overhaul of the Commonwealth Freedom of Information Act since it began operation in 1982. 

The proposals also include reducing the Archives Act's 30-year rule for access to all documents to 20 years, bringing forward access to Cabinet notebooks from 50 to 30 years, introducing a single, clear pro-disclosure public interest test, and ensuring that factors such as "embarrassment to the government" or "causing confusion and unnecessary debate" can no longer be relied on to withhold access to documents. 


Monday, March 23, 2009

The sorry state of access to information

The sorry state of access to information

By Dean Jobb

March 27 2009 issue

Amid the flood of inspiring words in Barack Obama’s inaugural address as president of the U.S. was a line about openness and accountability that should be a wake-up call to government leaders and bureaucrats in this country.

“Those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account to spend wisely,” Obama declared, “and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

Obama put those words into action on his first day in office, ordering federal agencies to treat government information as “a national asset” and to administer freedom of information legislation in a way that ensures the timely release of as much information as possible. “In the face of doubt,” notes one directive, “openness prevails.”

But in the face of this abrupt shift toward greater openness south of the border, too often Ottawa and provincial governments take an outmoded, haughty “you-can’t-handle-the-truth” approach to access to information. And that’s when government officials finally get around to replying to those seeking information.


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Friday, March 13, 2009

US Sunshine Week Poster

US Federal Government Still Viewed as Secretive; Public Supports President's Directive on Transparency

Federal Government Still Viewed as Secretive; Public Supports President's Directive on Transparency

WASHINGTON, March 13 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For the first time in four years, public opinion about government secrecy has leveled off, although more than seven in 10 adults still consider the federal government to be secretive, according to the 2009 Sunshine Week survey by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.

Since 2006, the percentage of adults who believe the federal government to be somewhat or very secretive has grown steadily; from 62 percent in 2006 to 74 percent in 2008. The latest survey finds 73 percent characterizing federal government as secretive.

This mood is perhaps buoyed by the nearly eight in 10 adults who think President Obama's Freedom of Information directive calling for a presumption of disclosure is the right thing to do.

"Trust in government has been on the decline for some time in the United States. The previous administration's disclosure policies certainly contributed to public skepticism," said Jerry Miller, director of the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. "People now appear more optimistic, but still guarded, about President Obama and the current administration's disclosure practices under the Freedom of Information Act."


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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Access to public records vital to U.S. democracy

Access to public records vital to U.S. democracy


by Editorial Board |

PUBLISHED ON 3/10/09 IN Opinion

This weekend, Tim Gleason, dean of the University's School of Journalism and Communication, wrote a piece for the Oregonian in which he highlighted some of the Oregon legislature's latest proposals to add more exceptions to the Oregon public records law. He argued, persuasively in our view, that the increased exceptions must be looked upon with some concern.

Public records laws are one of the single most important safeguards against tyranny in a free democracy. Strong public records laws are the people's first line of defense against illegal actions by their government; they provide, among other things, that most all meetings of policy makers that result in new laws or government actions are open to public scrutiny and input. They also require government agencies to release documents, reports and financial details applicable to nearly everything they are doing. Without the provision of transparency afforded under the public records law, politicians might be easily able to hide from the public many of their less popular or even illegal actions.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Information chief plans to target Scots public bodies

Information chief plans to target Scots public bodies

Lion Rampant -- Royal standard of Scotland, wi...Image via Wikipedia

Kevin Dunion is busy trying to put himself out of a job. The Scottish Information Commissioner is persuading public bodies to sign up to "model publication schemes" like the one entered into by police forces.

He will then embark on a series of rolling audits of public bodies to encourage the spread of best practice, so that in theory Scotland will become such a haven of openness and accountability that one day all public information will be so freely available that no-one will have to appeal to the commissioner.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

U.S. one of the more open governments

Monday, February 2, 2009

U.S. one of the more open governments


The United States is not alone when it comes to keeping the inner workings of its government secret - a practice that President Obama is attempting to change.

The International Budget Partnership (IBP), a Washington-based research group, said an overwhelming majority of governments withhold more information from their citizens than the United States - especially when it comes to money.

Eighty percent of the world's governments fail to provide adequate and timely budget information for the public to hold them accountable, according to a recent report by the group.

IBP's Open Budget Survey 2008 found that nearly half of 85 countries studied provide minimal information to the public and that only five, including the United States, provide extensive information.

"Transparency is critical for citizens to hold their government to account and is fundamental to the public´s trust in government," said Nancy Boswell, president of Transparency International USA, a global organization fighting corruption.


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Access to information: law and reality miles apart

Access to information: law and reality miles apart
By Dean Jobb
Lawyers Weekly
March 06 2009 issue

Imagine a lawyer heading into court to argue a case without being able to read the court file or the documents being entered as evidence.

Now imagine a journalist trying to produce an accurate news story about a case without being allowed to review the file or see the exhibits.

Lawyers get to see the file, of course, but that’s not the case for reporters in many jurisdictions as court officials deny access based on outdated precedents and flawed legal interpretations that critics say undermine the principle of open justice.

There’s a growing chorus of complaint that access to key court documents — informations setting out criminal charges, exhibits tendered during trials, youth court dockets — has become increasingly restrictive, despite a growing body of Charter jurisprudence that demands greater openness. Understaffed court offices and lack of training for front-line officials compound the problem.

“You have to go through hoops — very time-consuming and expensive hoops — in a lot of cases” to get access, complains Tracey Tyler, The Toronto Star’s legal affairs reporter, who has been covering the courts for two decades.

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