Monday, January 26, 2009

AEEL violating freedom of information legislation; Minister Rob Norris & Deputy Minister Wynne Young failing to respond to legitimate inquiries

“I mean, the act – the acts of government are pretty clear. That’s the law and – and the provisions until changed are to be followed.”
Deputy Premier Ken Krawetz during testimony at the Allan Walker wrongful dismissal hearing on June 26, 2008.
In a letter published in The Leader-Post on Jan. 26, 2009, Advanced Education, Employment and Labour Minister Rob Norris defended his government’s controversial essential services legislation. He said the legislation, passed by his government in spring 2008, is necessary. He expects unions and employers to respect the law by working together “in a fair and reasonable manner.” Yet his own ministry, at this very moment, is seriously breaching The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act by refusing to respond to legitimate requests for information on labour related issues, including essential services legislation.

An access to information request dated Oct. 29, 2008 was submitted to AEEL asking for “copies of any reviews or analyses that have been conducted by or for the Government of Saskatchewan since May 1, 2008, of The Trade Union Act and The Labour Standards Act.” The ministry received the request on Oct. 31, 2008.

In a letter dated Dec. 1, 2008 AEEL deputy minister Wynne Young advised that the 30 day response period had been extended an additional 30 days pursuant to section 12(1)(a)(ii) of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act “as there is a large number of requests and completing the work within the original period would unreasonably interfere with the operations of the government institution.”

Wynne said that if there were any questions to contact Gary Brown, the ministry’s access and privacy coordinator.

The deputy minister’s letter represents the only piece of correspondence the ministry has sent since receiving the request 88 days ago. Government institutions have, at most, 60 days to notify an applicant stating whether or not access to a record or part of it will be given.

AEEL has not fulfilled section 12(3) of the Act which states: “Within the period of extension, the head shall give written notice to the applicant in accordance with section 7.”

It has also exceeded the statutory limitations as established under section 7 of the Act. It has, in effect, broken the law.

The ministry is refusing to respond to inquiries about the request.

On Jan. 5, 2009 an email was sent to AEEL deputy minister Wynne Young asking when the ministry would be responding to the request. Wynne has not replied.

On Jan. 14, 2009 an email was sent to AEEL access and privacy coordinator Gary Brown inquiring about the status of the request and asking when the ministry would be responding as per Section 12(3) of the Act. Brown has not replied.

On Jan. 16, 2009 an email was sent to AEEL Minister Rob Norris advising him of the situation. Norris was asked to look into the situation and find out when his staff was going to respond. He was also asked to explain why AEEL staff was failing to answer legitimate inquiries. Norris has not replied.

In the email the minister was also made aware of two other requests for information made to his ministry that are pending. They are in regards to essential services legislation (Dec. 17, 2008) and the minimum age for employment (Dec. 23, 2008). As of Jan. 26, 2009 the requests are 41 and 35 days old respectively. The ministry has not responded to either and has violated Section 7(2) of the Act for failing to give written notice within 30 days after the application is made.

Section 7(5) of the Act indicates that: “A head who fails to give notice pursuant to subsection (2) is deemed to have given notice, on the last day of the period set out in that subsection, of a decision to refuse to give access to the record.”

By virtue of its silence it would appear that AEEL’s intention is to deny access to any of these records, all of which happen to be labour related. Perhaps this explains the ministry’s behaviour.

AEEL’s disregard for the province’s freedom of information law doesn’t end there. In mid-December a request for records concerning essential services legislation was submitted to the Ministry of the Executive Council, who subsequently kicked the file over to Norris’s ministry.

“I am transferring your request to the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour since they have a greater interest in the record that you have applied to see. The Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour are now responsible for processing your application and will update your on the status,” said the Dec. 24, 2008 letter from executive council. Thirty-three days have passed and AEEL hasn’t bothered to respond.

The applicant is not the only one AEEL is refusing to answer inquiries from.

On Jan. 8, 2009 the Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner was contacted for assistance in the matter. As of Jan. 22, 2009 AEEL has apparently not responded to the Commissioner’s inquiries either.

On Jan. 14, 2009 phone calls were made to the information commissioner, the provincial ombudsman and the access and privacy branch in the Ministry of Justice who administers the Act and helps government institutions and local authorities in Saskatchewan comply with it. All three were asked whether they had the power to compel a ministry to comply with the legislation. All of them said no.

What we have here appears to be a provincial law with no enforcement mechanism and a hypocritical Saskatchewan Party cabinet minister whose department is flagrantly abusing the system and is seemingly unconcerned about it.

It would be interesting to know whether Norris and his staff are acting alone or are they taking direction from a higher power -- say, the executive council perhaps?


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