Tuesday, 15 March 2011

RCMP investigation into obstruction of access-to-information

Tories call in Mounties to probe access to information interference
The RCMP have been called in to probe a Harper government aide’s meddling with an access-to-information request.

The Mounties are now conducting a preliminary inquiry to determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant a full investigation into the actions of Sebastian Togneri, a former Tory staffer.

The development, on the cusp of a possible election, is bad timing for the Conservatives. It gives the opposition more fodder for accusations the government is obstructionist and controlling – even though it also allows the Tories to decline comment on the topic, saying the matter is in the hands of the Mounties.

... Canada’s access-to-information law governs a system that allows the public to request government records for a nominal fee but also makes it illegal for anyone to obstruct this. Those convicted of concealing or altering information – or anyone found directing them to do so – can face a fine of up to $10,000 or as long as two years in jail.

Mr. Togneri resigned from the Harper government last September. The former aide to then-Public-Works minister Christian Paradis intervened in the release of information on that department’s real estate portfolio by ordering bureaucrats to recall a package of material being mailed to a journalist.

“Well un-release it,” Mr. Togneri said in a July 27, 2009, e-mail to a senior official in Public Work’s access-to-information division. “What's the point of asking for my opinion if you're just going to release it!”

The department had initially consented to releasing the requested information in its entirety but following Mr. Togneri’s intervention Public Works heavily censored the documents and made only a small portion available.

Ms. Legault, the Information Commissioner, plans to include her findings on the Togneri case in a special report to Parliament March 21 on the topic of interference in access-to-information requests.

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