Information commissioner still confident after Bill 29

Information commissioner Ed Ring says Bill 29, which some groups have denounced as a way for politicians to cloak decisions in secrecy, is far from a bad thing.
Privacy commissioner Ed Ring reacts to the province's new access to information legislation 8:39

Newfoundland and Labrador's information commissioner said Bill 29 — which independent groups have denounced as a way for politicians to cloak their decisions in secrecy — is far from a bad thing.

Ed Ring, who is also the province's privacy commissioner, said Monday that the bill does not stop the Access to the Information and Protection of Privacy Act from doing its job.

"I still maintain, based on my review, that the legislation remains robust, and that people's right to access information will be protected," Ring told reporters Monday, after he spoke at a St. John's conference on public access to government information.

While he acknowledged that "it's going to be a work in progress" as Bill 29 is implemented, Ring said he was heartened to see that individuals can still appeal government rejections of their requests to the courts.

"There are opportunities for judicial review," he said.

"Will there be oversight? And so the answer is yes, there will be."

Bill 29 was the subject of a four-day marathon debate at the house of assembly, with Opposition politicians leading a filibuster to delay passage of what NDP Leader Lorraine Michael dubbed "the most regressive piece of legislation I've seen."

Bill 29 dramatically increases the ways in which cabinet can prevent the release of information. For example, there are more categories under which records can be classified as cabinet documents, thereby allowing them to be designated as secret.

As well, ministers may also reject the release of information under requests that they deem "frivolous or vexatious."

As well, Bill 29 overturns losses that the government has suffered in the courts when the office of the information commissioner took the province to court.

Ring, though, said that his office will still challenge the government in court, when it sees the need to do so.

"We will consider each and every request very seriously," he said.