Sparks flew Thursday during several exchanges at public hearings reviewing Newfoundland and Labrador's access to information laws, as a well-known critic came under fire from chair Clyde Wells.
'We also see procedural problems such as overly lax timelines, allowing government to delay responding to access request, as well as fees that can be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.' - Michael Karanicolas
Michael Karanicolas, the legal officer of the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy, raised some of his concerns about how politicians have ducked accountability through the law.
But Karanicolas, who spoke out against Bill 29 when the Kathy Dunderdale government revamped the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in 2012, did not get a favourable response from Wells, a former Liberal premier.
Karanicolas began his presentation to the three-member committee, which is reviewing the province's access to information laws, with an anecdote of what a cabinet minister is alleged to have done to keep documents from public view.
"He looks around the room and he packs them back into his briefcase, and says, 'Good, now I don't have to disclose them,'" he said.
But Wells, who led a Liberal government in Newfoundland and Labrador between 1989 and 1996, would have none of the story.
"I'm not quite sure on what you base that, but that doesn't accord with my assessment of the law," Wells told Karanicolas, in one of several testy exchanges.
The panel was also skeptical about the ranking system used by the Centre for Law and Democracy, which drew flack two years ago from the government for putting Newfoundland and Labrador's access to information system behind other countries, including Serbia, Slovenia and India.
Karanicolas, though, stood by his assessment.
'I'm not quite sure on what you base that, but that doesn't accord with my assessment of the law.' - Clyde Wells, speaking to Michael Karanicolas
"We also see procedural problems such as overly lax timelines, allowing government to delay responding to access request, as well as fees that can be in the hundreds or thousands of dollars," he told reporters.
Karanicolas said access to information is substandard across Canada, and urged the panel to make recommendations for laws that would set a standard not only in Canada, but around the world.