Sunday, February 21, 2010

Corrections, Public Safety and Policing violate provincial law; request by Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner ignored

In October 2009, the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) posted a news bulletin on its website indicating that the provincial government was considering turning over its responsibility to inspect, license and monitor mechanical equipment -- such as elevators, amusement rides, boilers and other pressure vessels -- to private interests.

SGEU subsequently launched a public awareness campaign to let the people of Saskatchewan know what was happening and what was at stake.

The Ministry of Corrections, Public Safety and Policing “is proposing to move safety inspections from the public service to a Delegated Authority. This new authority would be governed by a board of directors that would include industry representation,” the SGEU said.

“The public has not been made aware of any plans to shift responsibility for safety inspections from public to private hands. Industry has been consulted, but the people of the province have been left in the dark.”

The CPSP’s licensing and inspections services unit is responsible for administering a wide range of regulatory, enforcement, and advisory services which provide safety standards to industry and the general public in the areas of:

▪ boiler and pressure vessel installations
▪ elevator and amusement ride installations
▪ licensing of persons who install gas and electrical equipment

The registration, inspection, certification, and licensing programs are operated on a fee-for-service, cost-recovery basis. Related costs are directed at those sectors which are directly involved in the manufacture, installation, and operation of potentially hazardous equipment; however, the safety benefits derived from these programs affect all Saskatchewan residents, the ministry’s website states.

The SGEU says that industry self-regulation too often means lower standards, inadequate reporting, limited monitoring and reduced compliance. It would like to know if the provincial auditor and ombudsman will have powers to oversee operations and address problems, and whether freedom of information and privacy protection rules that apply to government ministries will apply to the Delegated Authority. Good questions.

However, if recent events are any indication the Saskatchewan Party government appears to have little interest in being open and transparent on the subject.

On October 16, 2009, a freedom of information request was submitted to CPSP for copies of any briefing notes or memorandums since July 1, 2009, regarding or relating to the regulation, licensing, inspection and enforcement of boilers, pressure vessels, elevators and amusement rides in the province.

The request was neither onerous nor frivolous. It did not include emails, which can be time consuming to search for, and the time period involved is short.

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act requires government institutions to give written notice to the applicant within 30 days after the application is made stating whether access to record or part of it will be granted or refused. CPSP failed to do this.

On January 12, 2010, an email was sent to the ministry’s access and privacy consultant, Jim Bingaman, inquiring about the status of the request. He never responded.

A week later, on January 19, 2010, an email was sent to CPSP deputy minister Alan Hilton asking the same question. Hilton was also advised of the previous attempt to contact Mr. Bingaman. He didn’t respond either.

The matter was then turned over to the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) for follow-up action. In a letter dated February 9, 2010, the OIPC advised that a review would be undertaken.

“Based on your letter and enclosures, it appears CPSP has not provided you with a response pursuant to section 7(2) of The Freedom of Information of Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP). We have requested that they send a response to you. As such, you should receive a response no later than Thursday, February 18, 2010,” the OIPC said.

The deadline came and went without any word from the ministry. So not only is CPSP in contempt of provincial law it also appears to be disregarding a direct request from the information commissioner to comply with legislation.

The Saskatchewan Party government is secretive to begin with. Ministries frequently use the Act to block access to records but to blatantly disregard the law and ignore the information commissioner, an independent officer of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly, is arrogant and disturbing.

Sadly, the OIPC has no order-making power. It cannot level fines and penalties or force government institutions to do anything. The best it can do is issue a report and make recommendations.


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