PEI

Bring municipalities under Freedom of Information Act, says privacy commissioner

Bring municipalities and post-secondary institutions under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Act, shorten time limits on the release of information that has been withheld, and hold periodic reviews of the Act.

'All governments should be accountable to the public'

Karen Rose, P.E.I.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner, is recommending changes to the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Bring municipalities and post-secondary institutions under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Act, shorten time limits on the release of information that has been withheld, and hold periodic reviews of the Act.

Those are some of the recommendations from P.E.I.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner Karen Rose.

Rose explained the changes she'd like to see to the FOIPP Act to the Standing Committee on Communities, Land and Environment Thursday. 

Currently, P.E.I. is the only province where municipalities and post-secondary educational institutions don't fall under FOIPP. Municipalities would include the cities of Charlottetown and Summerside and their police forces, along with other smaller municipalities. 

"Municipal governments are governments and all governments should be accountable to the public," said Rose. 

Resources sufficient says Rose

Members of the committee asked whether changes would put too much work and responsibility on municipalities. Rose believes there's enough support. 

"I believe that we have enough resources, even for small municipalities, we have enough resources available to them and we can provide them with extra time before they come under the FOIPP Act so that they are ready to face their responsibilities," she said. 

Rose said it's time to include universities and colleges under FOIPP legislation as other provinces already have, and she added that UPEI and Holland College have the infrastructure and resources needed. 

Rose said UPEI has had a privacy policy since the 2000s and both UPEI and Holland College have freedom of information policies now. 

Review of FOIPP every 6 years

Rose also noted the FOIPP legislation has been around for 15 years and there are public bodies, including the office of the privacy commissioner, which would be a "great resource" to municipalities and post-secondary institutions.

There was also a recommendation to have the act reviewed at least every six years by a standing committee of the P.E.I. Legislature.

Rose also wants to see the time limit for records that are not disclosed because of exemptions shortened from 20 years to 15 years. Sometimes when information is requested through FOIPP it's withheld for discretion. An example of information that is allowed to be withheld is when it's someone's job to provide advice or recommendations to a public body.

"20 years seems like an excessive amount of time to wait for a record especially when in most cases decisions were made long ago," said Rose. 

Appropriate exemptions 

Rose also recommended that the office of the commissioner be allowed to view all records if a public body has decided to not disclose information because of solicitor-client privilege, to judge if that's the correct call.

"If we don't have the records or have access to viewing those records it is very difficult for us to decide whether they have applied that solicitor-client privilege exemption appropriately," said Rose. 

The standing committee will continue exploring issues around FOIPP and possibly make its own recommendations to the legislature.

Rose said the office of the privacy commissioner gets about 200 requests every year. 

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.