On Tuesday Feb. 4, The School of Community and Public Affairs (SCPA), and the Political Science Student Association (PSSA) encouraged students to come out and get informed, get engaged and get involved in some of the discussions and issues that are going on involving the right to public information in Quebec and Canada.
Silence in Canada: The Right to Public Information, consisted of a two-hour discourse with invited panelists on the problems Canadians have with the legislation surrounding the Access to Information Act.
The panelists included Carolyn Carluccio, the director of administration at the Commission D’accès a L’information du Quebec; Mike de Souza, a political journalist and correspondent for Postmedia News and a specialist in access to information cases; Jonathan Brun, who has helped in the creation of Nimonik, a way to track and confirm certain laws on mobile devices and Alan Conter, a former CBC Radio executive as well as a part-time faculty member teaching law and ethics in the journalism department. The moderator for the event was Emily McCarthy, the assistant information commissioner of Canada.
The panel focused on discussing issues involving the limitations that the government has on information that they are obligated to disclose to the public.
McCarthy expressed that a lot of pressure is being put on the Harper government to review this legislation and discuss potential reforms. According to Carluccio, her department goes through 500 cases, involving access to information issues, per year with three other judges. Carluccio emphasized that the timing in which a government document is able to be released and whether or not it could be accessible through the Internet are important factors to discuss when deciding on proper legislative reforms, and a “willingness to change mindset” by the parties involved would be necessary.
Brun focused on what the general public could do, through using technology and the Internet, to access information and lobby for more transparency from the government. He stressed that the government would have to improve their “response efficiency” to requests for information if things are to change.
de Souza said that the law could be used to the publics’ advantage in getting the government to answer questions in regards to access to information. He himself has investigated several stories, including the Lac-Mégantic train derailment, where requested information took up to a year to be disclosed.