Inside Politics

PrivilegeWatch: Digging into the details of Dean Del Mastro's proposed production order

Hot off the #ETHI presses comes the final version of Dean Del Mastro's motion to compel the CBC to produce unredacted documents related to ATI requests filed by Quebecor, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting:

That, in order for the Committee to determine and assess exclusions, the Committee orders the production of the following documents pursuant to Standing Order 108 (1):
1.      From the CBC: The un-redacted documents provided by the CBC for the access to information requests made by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation;

2.      From Québecor Media Inc.:  The access to information request referred to by Pierre Karl Péladeau at the meeting of Thursday, October 20, 2011;

3.      From the CBC: The redacted and un-redacted response provided by the CBC to the request referred to in #2 made by Québecor Media Inc.;

4.      From Friends of Canadian Broadcasting: The access to information requests made of the CBC and the responses provided by the CBC.

5.      From the CBC: The un-redacted documents relating to the requests made by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting.

And, that that these documents be provided to the Committee without delay.
Interestingly, if almost certainly unintentionally, in the first draft of the motion, which was read into the record by Del Mastro himself, the second item on the list referred to the "access to information requests" -- in the plural -- "referred to by Pierre Karl Peladeau" during his appearance before the committee last week.

The ambiguous wording prompted Liberal MP Scott Andrews to point out, not unreasonably, that, under questioning, Peladeau had actually referred to all ATI requests that Quebecor has filed with CBC.

As such, if the motion passed, he would expect to see, in his words, "the actual requests to the CBC" filed by "Quebecor and every reporter and person employed by Quebecor who requested information" during the time period in question. That, he suggested, would give committee members "some idea of what information they're actually looking for."

This, as it turned out, was not at all what Del Mastro had meant for his motion to do, which likely explains the pre-minutes edit, which will, it seems, restrict the order to the specific requests on which Peladeau elaborated in his testimony, as well as the redacted and unredacted responses from CBC. Although there is nothing that would prevent Quebecor from voluntarily releasing its ATI requests, but as far as the proposed order goes, the company will only have to produce the request related to vehicles.   

As for the order itself, as stated in former Speaker Milliken's landmark ruling on the issue, Parliament -- which includes both Chambers and their creature committees -- has the absolute power to compel the production of persons, papers and records.

On that note, it's worth pointing out that, unlike the ongoing dispute over the interpretation of the Access to Information Act, this particular exercise of that privilege has nothing to do with the fact that the CBC is a crown corporation: the committee would have just as much right to order Quebecor, or any other private broadcaster or media outlet to hand over its records, with no exemption for material related to journalistic activities, including, potentially, documents that could reveal the identities of confidential sources.

Perhaps mindful of that fact, Del Mastro made it clear that, if passed, all documents produced under order should be dealt in camera, but in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Canadian Association of Journalists president Hugo Rodrigues expressed concern over what he described as "an unprecedented to compel disclosure."

The motion will be debated -- and possibly voted upon -- when the committee reconvenes next Tuesday.
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