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Opening comments:

Here is a list of the worse that can happen and it happened in Canada and those who did it have got away with it because they are bureaucrats!

Visit the web-site  set up by the adhoc committee of MPs reviewing the Access to Information Act.

Emphasis by of underlining & color has been added.

The Toronto Sun Aug. 26 - 2001     By Greg Weston - National Politics

They call this access to information?

0TTAWA - A few months ago, the highly respected Ottawa think tank called the Public Policy Forum asked me to participate in a series of round-table discussions on the usefulness of the federal Access to Information Act.

This week, the results of those discussions were added to a growing chorus of criticism from a wide range of Canadians over what has become organized government subversion of the Act.

The Act, introduced in 1983 in the dying days of the Trudeau Liberals, was supposed to make government more open, transparent and accountable to those it serves namely the Canadian public.

Eighteen years later, the Act has become an instrument of secrecy, the Chretien government has sued its own Information Commissioner for trying to enforce the law and now the Liberals are even trying to shut down a committee of MPs trying to study the issue.

Since I was unable (for scheduling reasons) to participate in the recent round-table review of the Act, here are a few of the observations and experiences I would have shared:

* Secrecy produces stupid government. The worst administration of public funds - the most widespread waste of taxpayers' money historically has come from the two most "closed" departments: National Defence and Foreign Affairs.

* Sometime in the mid-1990s, the bright lights in the Defence Department declared me "an enemy" for using the Access Act to expose financial squandering on a massive scale.

As a result of my special status, I was routinely given falsified government documents, freshly manufactured in direct and blatant violation of the law Fortunately for taxpayers, the offending brass underestimated the integrity of their underlings who, for every fake document produced, would graciously slip me a copy of the real one.

No one, to my knowledge, was ever disciplined for tampering with government documents, the worst kind of offence under the Access Act.

* One chief bean-counter at Foreign Affairs decided public exposure might be an effective way to get squandering diplomats to quit thinking with their limos.  As we have previously reported, he ordered every embassy audited, and the results made available to the public through the Access Act.  The move was so successful in changing the diplomatic mindset that, eventually, the audits were simply supplied to the media as a matter of routine.

More recently, the Liberal government has apparently decided that audits are fine as long as they say nice things about the spending habits of our representatives abroad.  By all accounts, without effective public scrutiny, the department is right back to its old spending ways.

* Under the Act, each federal department must have an access-to-information co-ordinator.  And for years, these individuals tended to be ardent information freedom fighters in a culture of bureaucratic secrecy.

On one occasion, an Access to Information request produced a large package of documentation detailing a run of profligate spending in the Department of Multiculturalism.  Oddly, the next day, a courier delivered another document that suggested the spending spree wasn't nearly as bad as it might have looked from the rest of the package.

Turned out the latter document was manufactured by unauthorized persons, a fact the access co-ordinator hoped to subtly flag by sending it separately.

* In principle, the cost of information requests, if any, is not supposed to be a barrier to access generally, it is five bucks, plus photocopying.  In the past few years, however, devious bureaucrats have been trying to scare off access requesters with big price tags.

On one occasion, I received a tip that the Defence Department was shutting down a military base into which it had just poured millions in capital upgrades.

A request under the Access Act for any capital expenditures in the base over the previous two years produced the following response from the Department: "The cost of processing this request is estimated to be $67,480."

Insiders later told us the brass were pretty proud of themselves for this bit of trickery - until we reported that obviously the Department had wasted a fortune on a base it was closing.  Heck, just reported the mountain of bills was going to cost over $60,000!

While we won that and a few other battles along the way, Canadian taxpayers are definitely losing the war.

As the Public Policy Forum reported this week the law intended to provide Canadians with an open door to government information is instead being used to lock out the public completely.

It's hard to imagine a government that has accomplished so little could have so much to hide,

Weston appears Sundays   E-mail:

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