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Government curtails child and youth rep's right to know

The provincial government moved yesterday to restrict the representative for children and youth's right to information.

“I'm concerned,” said the representative, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, adding that the proposed changes will limit her powers and her role.

The existing law governing her office includes a “right to information” section allowing for access to any information under the control of a public body or director that “is necessary to enable the representative to exercise his or her powers or perform his or her functions or duties.”

The “section applies despite . . . any claim of confidentiality or privilege, other than a claim based on solicitor-client privilege.”

In an April 29 letter to Turpel-Lafond, deputy minister to the premier Allan Seckel argued that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act prohibits the heads of public bodies from disclosing cabinet related materials. He noted that Turpel-Lafond had threatened to take the government to court to resolve the “ambiguity.”

Amendments brought forward by the government yesterday restrict the representative's right “with respect to information that would reveal the substance of deliberations of the Executive Council or any of its committees, including any advice, recommendations, policy considerations or draft legislation or regulations submitted or prepared for submission to the Executive Council or any of its committees.”

“It's unfortunate it has come to this,” said Attorney General Michael de Jong. “There is a fundamental disagreement and it revolves around the question of whether the representative should have the unrestricted ability to release material restricted by cabinet privilege . . . It's not a question of access.”

The government agrees the representative should have access to all relevant documents, but only after signing a protocol on how and when that information can be released, he said. “It has not in any way been an issue with respect to other independent officers,” he said. “The Auditor General receives access to cabinet material but does so on the basis of a protocol that's in place that relates to the unrestricted release of that material.”

Perhaps the new legislation will encourage the representative for children and youth to sign such a protocol, he said.

Turpel-Lafond, however, said she has refused to sign a protocol as it would compromise her independence. “It goes to the core set of tools that you have to do a job like this.”

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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