If anyone still thinks Canada’s access to information process is not broken, pull up a chair. I have a story for you. cc @DeanBeeby #cdnpoli
Eight years ago, I got a tip that Canada privately sourced medial kits to give to Libyan rebels fighting Moammar Gadhafi (remember them?) because the kits DND already had on hand had material made in Israel or marked with first aid-type crosses: https://www.macleans.ca/news/world/second-guessing-first-aid-to-arab-nations/
There’s no evidence Canada checked to see if Libyan rebels would reject made-in-Israel gear or would be bothered by the "St. John Ambulance/Maltese Cross" that Canadian officials feared evoked crosses worn by Crusaders.
I confirmed the story with an unnamed DFAIT (now Global Affairs) official, despite an official DFAIT denial. Documents I got via an access-to-information request revealed a last-minute scramble to source the kits, noting “there will be no financial due diligence.”
Many of the documents released because of my access-to-information request were redacted. But those that were released hinted at potential problems with the material DND was planning to provide one week before then foreign minister John Baird was due to visit Libya.
An official noted that packaging on emergency trauma and combat dressing “indicates that they [redacted] so we are removing them from the shipment.”
DFAIT justified the redaction on a section of the Access to Information Act that allows the withholding of information that “could reasonably be expected to be injurious to the conduct of international affairs, the defence of Canada or any state allied or associated with Canada.”
I thought this was disingenuous and filed a complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner. In the hopes of getting a speedy response (spoiler: ha ha), I narrowed my complaint to the one redaction on one page of the response.
This week, SEVEN YEARS after filing, I got a response from Caroline Maynard, the Information Commissioner of Canada. She found my complaint to be well founded and recommended that the deputy minister of foreign affairs (Marta Morgan) disclose the information.
Specifically: “Global Affairs Canada did not demonstrate that disclosure of the information at issue could reasonably be expected to harm the conduct of international affairs...."
"... It did not provide adequate specifics to demonstrate a risk of harm resulting from disclosure of this information that is well beyond a mere possibility.”
Here’s the kicker: It doesn’t matter. Morgan is ignoring the Information Commissioner’s recommendation:
“On August 14, 2020, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs gave me notice that she would not be implementing my recommendation and that the information withheld on page 232 of the records would remain exempted pursuant to subsection 15(1) of the Act.”
I now have the option of appealing to the Federal Court.
Trudeau 2015: "We committed to set a higher bar for openness and transparency in Ottawa. Government and its information must be open by default. Simply put, it is time to shine more light on government to make sure it remains focused on the people it was created to serve – you."
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