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Scanned or retyped copy.   If there are errors, please e-mail me with corrections:

Opening comments:  More at the end.

From 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.

PUBLICATION:         Windsor Star
DATE:                          2001.08.11
EDITION:                     Final
SECTION:                    EDITORIAL
PAGE:                          A8
SOURCE:                     Windsor Star

State secrets; Civil servants should testify

In a move that critics have blasted as being undemocratic, the federal  government has decreed civil servants can't testify at public hearings about open and transparent government.

"This is part of a pattern in this government of trying to batten down the hatches," said Conservative leader Joe Clark. "It's an instance of a government trying to shut down processes when they should be trying to open them up."

Frustrated with what privacy commissioner John Reid termed the "culture of secrecy" dominating federal institutions, Liberal MP John Bryden introduced a private member's bill in October 1999 to overhaul the Access to Information Act.

The Act was passed in 1983 to foster open government and political accountability. In theory it gives Canadians the right to access information recorded by the federal government provided the disclosure doesn't violate national security, trade secrets or individual privacy.

In practice, however, Reid lamented in his annual report, the Act is routinely abused as a "secrecy statute" by bureaucrats who delay filling information requests, charge outrageous fees to discourage all but the most tenacious researchers and conduct fake searches for information.

Efforts by Bryden and the all-party task force -- comprised of 15 MPs, including 10 Liberals -- to examine and suggest improvements to the Act are clearly being undermined by Boudria's dictum. How can the issue of open government be addressed when the government muzzles the civil servants who know the issue best?

Boudria says senior bureaucrats are already conducting a closed-door review of the Act. He said Bryden and his committee would be advised of legislative changes once the unelected mandarins -- the very ones perpetuating the "culture of secrecy" -- make their decisions.

The right of citizens to access documents generated by government institutions is necessary for a healthy democracy. It promotes accountability and acts as a buffer against hastiness, incompetence and corruption. It is a check, a necessary one, on governmental power.

Instead of hiding behind technicalities and closed doors, the current government should shed some light on a system that routinely keeps Canadians in the dark.

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