New access to information changes to make N.L. a world leader: advocate

A director with the Centre for Law and Democracy is praising recommended changes to Newfoundland and Labrador's access to information legislation.
Michael Karanicolas said proposed changes to Newfoundland and Labrador's access to information laws are a step in the right direction. (CBC)

A staff member of the Centre for Law and Democracy is praising recommended changes to Newfoundland and Labrador's access to information legislation.

Michael Karanicolas, legal officer with the centre, said the changes will make the province a world leader when it comes to access to information.

"These recommendations are a huge step forward, and a hugely progressive move," he said during an interview on CBC's On Point.

"This would put Newfoundland and Labrador as certainly the best jurisdiction in Canada, and I believe probably the best jurisdiction among established democracies as well."

Karanicolas had spoken out sharply against 2012's Bill 29, which critics called a draconian move to limit the public's right to government documentation and decision-making. 

The governing Tories are now replacing Bill 29 with a bill written by a review committee chaired by retired Supreme Court of Appeal chief justice Clyde Wells, who is also a former premier. 

Karanicolas, after seeing the recent changes recommended by Wells' review committee, is now giving the Newfoundland and Labrador government some praise.

"BIll 29 was a big step backward, as we said, and this is going to be an even bigger step forward, which is great to see," he said.

"We don't pull any punches when we see a government that is contrary to their human rights obligations. When we see a government is doing something right, like this government is, then we will be just as vociferous in expressing our support."

'A step in the right direction'

Karanicolas said he supports the new law because it both reverses some of the problematic areas of Bill 29, as well as improving on core areas of the law.

He said that those improvements include expediting procedures for access, as well as what he considers the most significant change: expanding the information and privacy commissioner's mandate.

Newfoundland and Labrador Deputy Premier Steve Kent said last week that the new access to information law remains on track to come into effect June 1. (CBC)

"Around the world, if you look at successful access to information systems, they depend on a strong oversight body to promote compliance and to resolve any issues with implementation," he said. 

"This should allow them to play a strong role to ensure the government complies to the letter of the law."

When it comes to rolling back cabinet secrecy, Karanicolas said the new recommendations could go further.

"It's a big step forward, but not completely in line with what we were looking for," he said.

"Cabinet records are still categorically excluded. We were hoping to see something along the lines where each record is examined on a case-by-case basis to see if it would actually cause harm to a recognized public interest."

'Canadian jurisdictions are weak'

After Bill 29 was implemented, the Centre for Law and Democracy ranked Newfoundland and Labrador 38th in the world when it comes to access to information policies.

Karanicolas said if the new changes are put into place, he believes the province will be a global leader on the issue.

"Broadly, Canadian jurisdictions are weak," he said.

"Not only is Newfoundland and Labrador going to be back on the top, it will be one of the strongest in the world."

Deputy premier Steve Kent told reporters last week the new law remains on track to come into effect June 1, after it has been passed through the legislature.

On Point - April 25, 2015

8 years ago
Duration 23:18
On the eve of the provincial budget . . .two views on what to do with the public's money. Plus, the group that slammed Bill 29, praises its replacement.

With files from David Cochrane