'We want to be transparent': UPEI creates new access to information policy

UPEI says it's playing catch up with other universities in Canada, and adopting a new policy aimed at making accessing information easier.

Student Union still wants university under provincial act

Jackie Podger, vice-president administration and finance at UPEI, looks over the university's new access to information and protection of personal information and privacy policy. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

UPEI says it's playing catch up with other universities in Canada, and adopting a new policy aimed at making accessing information easier. 

"We want to be transparent. We want to have a more open and transparent type of policy in place," said Jackie Podger, UPEI's vice-president administration and finance.

"That's common among the universities across the country. We want to do the same thing."

However, unlike in every other province, colleges and universities on P.E.I. don't have to follow provincial freedom of information legislation.  

And while UPEI has had its own personal information and privacy policy in place since 2004, its stated purpose isn't to help people access information, but solely to "provide for the protection and privacy of personal information held by the University."

In comparison, the new policy — which takes effect in May — lays out a process on how to apply for information, and the circumstances where the university can withhold it. It also gives the responsibility to enforce the policy to a newly hired access to information and privacy officer. 

"She would determine whether she's actually able to fulfil that request, how long it might take, what it might involve, and then get back to the person asking for the information," said Podger.

"There are pieces of information we can't let out. For example, student information might be something that's private … hiring information, that's private. We have to take all these things into consideration."

Student Union wants more 'accountability'

UPEI's Student Union said it's pleased to see the university creating an access to information policy, but as it's been demanding for a few years, the union still wants to see P.E.I. colleges and universities included under the province's Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. 

"A large amount of tax dollars are going into this university," said Johnathan Rix, the union's vice-president external. "So [the P.E.I. government's] oversight would provide a lot more accountability, rather than the people overseeing the budgets themselves doing their own access to information rulings."

Student union vice-president Johnathan Rix wants UPEI to be included under provincial freedom of information legislation. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

Podger pointed out that it's the responsibility of the government, not UPEI, to make any changes to to its legislation. 

"In terms of other acts we may fall under, that's for others to decide," she said. "All we know is we want to be as transparent as we can be and we're certainly going to facilitate that to our best levels and standards."

Legislation under review 

At this point, it's not clear whether the P.E.I. government plans to add colleges and universities to its freedom of information act.  

In an e-mail to CBC, a spokesperson said the province has asked post-secondary institutions "to look at their own capacity to be more proactive in providing information."

The e-mail goes onto say the province is in the process of reviewing its freedom of information legislation, which includes a discussion around colleges and universities.