In the harbour
1. Right to Know Week
This is Right to Know Week, and today is Right to Know Day:
Each year on September 28, approximately 40 countries and 60 non-governmental organizations celebrate Right to Know Day. The purpose of Right to Know is to raise awareness of an individual’s right to access government information, while promoting freedom of information as essential to both democracy and good governance.
Over the years, certain principles have emerged that form the core of the Right to Know movement. For instance, to mark the celebration of International Right to Know Day in 2003, the Open Society Justice Initiative announced the following set of The 10 Right to Know Principles developed with partnering organizations:
1. Access to information is a right of everyone.
2. Access is the rule—secrecy is the exception!
3. The right applies to all public bodies.
4. Making requests should be simple, speedy, and free.
5. Officials have a duty to assist requesters.
6. Refusals must be justified.
7. The public interest takes precedence over secrecy.
8. Everyone has the right to appeal an adverse decision.
9. Public bodies should pro-actively publish core information.
10. The right should be guaranteed by an independent body.
A couple of stories in the news illustrate the importance of Right to Know.
First, in New Brunswick:
“NB Liquor has threatened to sue the province’s access to information commissioner over a damning report that concludes the Crown corporation “considered itself above the law” in processing a routine right to information request from CBC News,” reports Karissa Donkin for the CBC:
The liquor corporation issued an unprecedented legal threat to commissioner Anne Bertrand on Monday, accusing the independent officer of issuing a “slanderous” report and “acting in bad faith.”
Her report details a “culture of secrecy” at NB Liquor, describing how the public body treats right to information requests as “an unnecessary inconvenience or irritant,” even though the law says otherwise.
“It became immediately obvious to us that NB Liquor at its highest management level did not care to recognize the relevance of the [right to information] legislation or the impact of its approach in this case, especially to the oversight office tasked with ensuring the law is well applied and followed,” Bertrand wrote.
NB Liquor’s lawyers sent a letter to Bertrand on Monday, advising her of the “intent to pursue legal action.”
The letter, sent by Stewart McKelvey lawyer Clarence Bennett, says the commissioner’s report contains “blatant falsehoods, conjecture, defamatory comments, and baseless accusations.”
“Such statements have no basis in fact, are well beyond the commissioner’s statutory mandate and have been made gratuitously, solely to embarrass NB Liquor and certain of its employees and therefore have been done in bad faith,” the letter says.
That prompted Bertrand to cancel scheduled interviews about her report on Tuesday with CBC News. Her office hasn’t responded to further requests for comment.
The details, found at the link, are astounding. It is the access to information commissioner’s job to collect all documents and make a decision, and yet the liquor commission refused even to provide Bertrand with the relevant documents.
And then to take the extra step of threatening to sue the commissioner is egregiously against the spirit of not just the right to know but even of a functioning government.
Meanwhile, closer to home, we’ve got Merlin Nunn, who appeared before the legislature’s Human Resources committee yesterday. In yesterday’s Morning File I commented:
Conflict of Interest Commissioner Merlin Nunn will explain that Nova Scotia has the most ethical and corruption-free government ever to grace the planet, and so that’s why in his 19 years on the job, he’s never found anyone who’s ever had a conflict of interest. Give that man a raise, eh?
Michael Gorman, reporting for the CBC, explains:
And while the role, in Nunn’s opinion, is “absolutely vital to a democratic society,” he questioned how much of it needs to be public.
Rulings by Nunn are only made public if an individual involved chooses to release the information. In other instances, because he’s being asked for advice, Nunn said he believes it reasonable for that to remain private. He questioned the value of filing an annual activity report if it only has generic information.
“It doesn’t tell anything other than how busy is the person. How can I report that I’ve been on the telephone so many times and for such a long time that even my wife is mad at me? I don’t subscribe to the notion that this is all part of an open government,” he said.
“I’m not a fan of transparency in this particular situation. You’re giving advice to people in their jobs and it’s all very private.”
This is the kind of “ah shucks” attitude that leads to improper behaviour being swept under the rug. Really, it’s far past time to send Nunn to pasture. This is not how governments behave in an open society.
Also yesterday, “Information and privacy commissioner Catherine Tully issued new guidelines on Tuesday warning public employees not to use personal emails or send texts if it involves their jobs,” reports Jean Laroche for the CBC:
“We do have quite a few people complaining that records are missing when they make an access request, or believing that somebody has used personal email,” she said.
“In the last three months, on at least one occasion, we did have evidence that somebody used personal email. Not to get around the law — just that they did public body business using personal email.”
Tully said there was no evidence to suggest anyone had used a cellphone or tablet as a way to circumvent the law or hide sensitive material from access to information requests, but she’s worried about the increase in the number of times she asks for information and the answer is, “No records exist.”
I’ve been collecting evidence of government officials using private email. I’m less charitable than Tully; officials know damn well that using private email is a work around Freedom of Information laws — If a citizen puts in a request for records, the government’s servers are searched, but that won’t turn up email sent via Yahoo or gmail.
Recently, I was forwarded an email chain that contains within it two emails: an email from an MLA using a gmail account to a deputy minister using a hotmail account, and a response back from the deputy minister from the hotmail account to the gmail account. That exchange was then included in various forwards that eventually ended up in my inbox.
The content of the emails isn’t important — the exchange itself is innocuous. But it is apparent to me that the gmail and hotmail accounts are the default email accounts used by the MLA and deputy minister respectively. The MLA started a brand new email on a gmail account, and so that is evidently his go-to account, and when he started to write in the “to” field, autofill brought the deputy minister’s hotmail account, which shows that they’ve had previous exchanges using those two accounts, and it is likely her default email account as well.
For the sake of argument, perhaps a new MLA could be excused for not knowing that using email off government servers is improper, but a deputy minister? And it’s a hotmail account — no one much starts a new hotmail account anymore, which suggests this particular account has been used for many years.
I haven’t named the MLA or the deputy minister because I want to give them the opportunity to respond. I also don’t think their use of private email is particularly unusual. That doesn’t make it right.
My suspicion is that government employees are regularly using such accounts in order to keep controversial decisions and conversations from ever being discovered by the public.
If readers have evidence of other government employees or politicians using non-governmental email accounts, please send it to me.
2. Cycling collision card
“A friend of mine was hit by a car last year, and because of her modest income, she refused an ambulance ride from the scene to the hospital, where she could be properly assessed for a head injury,” writes Erica Butler. “Days later she wound up in Emergency anyway, suffering from the tell-tale signs of a concussion”:
Setting aside the disturbing Canadian trend towards high user fees for ambulance care, the rub in this story is that my friend needn’t have worried about that ambulance fee at all. It was covered by the driver’s public liability insurance, which takes care of immediate medical expenses like ambulances (and even follow-up care such as physiotherapy) automatically, regardless of any future determination of fault, which can take months to be resolved.
But my friend didn’t know that, and so instead made the only choice she thought she could, refusing the care she needed at the scene.
The question of whether or not to get in an ambulance is only the first of many whose answers can elude us in the moments after a collision. Should you call the police? What number do you call? What information are you legally entitled to get from the driver? What about witnesses?
Kelsey Lane is hoping that a new Cycling Collision Card will help alleviate some of the confusion for people on bikes who find themselves in an accident.
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3. Living wage ordinance
Council candidates continue to respond to my two questions — one about whether or not they support a living wage ordinance and the other an open-ended question about their priorities. As I receive their responses, I update the page. I’ve also gussied the page up a bit to make it more user-friendly, and will continuing gussying as I have time, adding more candidate info and other material.
Find the updated gussied-up page here.
3. Fliss Cramman
Examiner contributor El Jones has been following the story of Fliss Cramman. As Jones wrote Saturday:
The story of Fliss Cramman is appalling.
Cramman came from England to Canada when she was eight. She was sexually abused by her family and taken into care at 11. She was a ward of the state until she turned 18, and she assumed she was a Canadian citizen.
She recently served time at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., for offering to traffic heroin. While in prison, she learned she was not a Canadian and would be deported to the U.K. on Nov. 4. She’s never met her relatives in England.
Cramman, who was too ill to attend her deportation hearing, remains “shackled to her bed.”
Dr. Alex Mitchell, Dartmouth General’s chief of surgery, said sending her to England with no money or support would be dangerous and “un-Canadian,” given her physical and mental illnesses.
“I know that she’ll get off the airplane in a jumpsuit, with no money, no phone, no contacts, no home, no food, in one of the world’s busiest airports. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the airport at Heathrow, in London, but it would be a terrible place for someone with mental illness to show up with nothing and be homeless with mental illness,” he told the board.
Deporting Cramman is “just simply wrong” and her situation should be considered an adult protection issue, he added.
The conditions Cramman is undergoing in the hospital are horrific. Shackling a dangerously ill woman to her bed is inhumane and there should be no place for that in Canada. Beyond the painful immediate details of her current situation, there are a number of systemic failures in this case.
I’ve heard from other advocates before about the problem of children in care not having their citizenship applied for. When children are taken into care, the state is supposed to be acting as their guardian and has the responsibility to protect them. Not applying for citizenship is a serious failure towards these children. This seems to be a systematic neglect.
The fact that there is neither a requirement to seek citizenship for children in care nor any sanctions for those who do not do so for these children is a huge injustice and violation of human rights. The most vulnerable children — those who are victimized by abuse, sometimes children who have been trafficked, children without family support, who may not speak English, and who have no advocates for them in a strange country — should be the people we have the most will to protect. That the people charged with caring for them are neglecting the most foundational right — the right of citizenship — is outrageous, and there should be outrage and immediate changes in policy to assure that children will not continue to be denied their rights.
Jones has organized a “Justice for Fliss Cramman” rally outside the Dartmouth Hospital for tomorrow at 6pm. The intent is not to disrupt hospital operations but rather to draw attention the issue. Click here for more details.
A reader sends me this job ad for a “Senior Delivery Officer” for the “Premier’s Delivery Unit.” I really don’t want to think about the premier’s delivery unit (ahem), but here’s the job description:
This position reports to the Executive Director, Premier’s Delivery Unit and will work collaboratively with the leadership of various Departments for management, implementation and delivery on identified key government priorities by developing targets, trajectories, measurement and delivery plans. Working with Departments, the Senior Delivery Officer will lead, develop, initiate and implement delivery plans according to a schedule and develop targets, milestone reporting, and risk management planning and issue mitigation, as required.
This is a data driven position that is responsible to advance complex program based initiatives with departments by providing corporate support on a select number of high priority initiatives with an objective of improved outcomes.
That might sound like gobbledygook to many, but we discussed the ad on Twitter yesterday and came to some conclusions. It is, said one person, the equivalent of Doug Stamper’s position in House of Cards, which made sense — evidently the Chris & Kris (MacInnes & Hines) show is expanding. It makes me wonder, however, how many Rachels we have in Nova Scotia, and where their bodies are buried.
Then Jacques Poitras pointed me to this CBC article about a “Deliverology guru” who coaches Justin Trudeau; “delivery,” says Poitras, is “the latest government buzzword among Liberals.”
Update your bullshit dictionaries.
Community Design Advisory Committee (11:30, City Hall) — the committee is discussing the schedule for “rolling out” the Centre Plan. I know people have high hopes for the Centre Plan, but I’m so old I remember when people had high hopes for HRM By Design, which was supposed to bring us the best downtown ever. But HRM By Design got passed, then the Borg landed, destroying downtown visually, aesthetically, economically, and socially. At roughly the same time the celebrated Barrington Heritage District became most noted for heritage buildings being destroyed. So colour me skeptical.
Public Accounts (9am, Province House) — Peter Vaughan , deputy minister at Health & Wellness, and Janet Knox, president of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, will be asked about the auditor general’s report on hospital capacity.
Caregiver Support and Discussion (12pm, Room 3201, Mona Campbell Building) — Andrea Power, from Dalhousie’s University Secretariat, will discuss updates on the legislation related to dying with dignity.
Noon Hour Recital (12:15pm, Dalhousie Arts Centre) — Free music.
Gold (1:30pm, Chemistry Room 226) — Cathleen Crudden will speak about “From Molecules to Materials: Asymmetric Catalysis and the Preparation of Carbon-based Monolayers on Gold.” Get there early: refreshments will be provided in Chemistry Room 225 at 1:15 pm.
Archives (3:30pm, University Hall, MacDonald Building) — Evelyn McLellan will speak on “Implementing Technology in Archives and Libraries” as part of the Digital Preservation Management Workshop.
Genes (4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Building) — Alberto Kornblihtt, from the University of Buenos Aires, will speak on “Chromatin and Transcriptional Elongation Regulate Alternative Splicing.”
In the harbour
6am: Anthem of the Seas, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 22 from bar Harbor with up to 4,180 passengers
6am: Crystal Serenity, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 20 from Sept-Iles, Quebec with up to 1,254 passengers
6am: ZIM Monaco, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Valencia, Spain
7am: Pearl Mist, cruise ship, arrives at Pier 23 from Lunenburg with up to 200 passengers
11am: Octavia, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from New York
3:30pm: Crystal Serenity, cruise ship, sails from Pier 20 for Portland
3:30pm: Pearl Mist, cruise ship, sails from Pier 23 for Charlottetown
4:30pm: ZIM Monaco, container ship, sails from Pier 42 for New York
5pm: Anthem of the Seas,cruise ship, sails from Pier 22 for Saint John
6mp: Algoma Mariner, bulker, sails from National Gypsum for sea
9:30pm: Octavia, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for Kingston, Jamaica
I have technical difficulty this morning, so this is something of an abbreviated post. I’ll return to full crankiness once I work through the details.
I’ll be on The Sheldon MacLeod Show, news 95.7, at 2pm.
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The issue of politicians using private e-mail recently came up in NL: http://www.thetelegram.com/News/Local/2016-07-04/article-4578193/Questions-swirl-around-Coady%26rsquo%3Bs-use-of-Gmail-account/1
My experience was that most ministers, most political staff, and some deputies are using private e-mails. We only see it occasionally, when someone slips up and forwards a private e-mail exchange to a government address, but it’s very common.
When I first got into government, the standard way of avoiding FOIPOP was to use Blackberry PINs. Some people wouldn’t communicate any other way. I assume that’s still going on too, but it’s more commonly accepted now that Blackberry PINs are producible.
RE: Florizone. I have personal and professional experience with the vaunted MIT (and Harvard) corridor.
Six words: Non-stop wine and cheese party.
Perhaps that’s five words. In any event, you catch my drift.
Re: 1. Right To Know Week
As old as I am – 70 years today – this touches a chord that burns as hotly today as it did when it ignited in my earliest years growing up in a secretive environment and culture which cruelly limited and denied information as quickly as it delivered judgment. Control was rigid and exclusively vested. Little has changed in power’s wish and willingness to restrict and deny information in pursuit of self-interest and unrestricted authority. A free press and courageous, tenacious truth-seeking individuals within it are our bulwark, but they need partnership and support from us, a public that stays informed, cares, and demands transparency. You do that here, Tim – personally, and through this newspaper and the voices of those you support. My thanks and gratitude to all of you.
I occasionally re-read this powerful 2015 editorial by a Wisconsin newspaper editor who shares these values. George Stanley addresses transparency, the people’s right to know, and the importance and value of public reaction when access to information was threatened in a sneaky government move to circumscribe it near the July 4th weekend in 2015. Note the concentration of power he references, and how it facilitates unethical boundaries and power grabs. It’s a lesson for us also, one that’s especially dangerous within majorities in our parliamentary system. Omnibus bills are a toxic manifestation that have become prevalent, and which are not clearly analyzed and communicated to the public in concise, readily-understandable terms.
The Deliverology job sounds custom made for Marilla Stephenson, no?
1. NB Liquor: Another HAWCO in the making?
2. Deliverology: I recently gave a talk at Stanford where I suggested that Pharma is better at gaming the system than innovating. Is this the government equivalent of obfuscation?
Another reason to abolish government liquor monopolies.