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Ottawa Still Censoring Websites in Government Departments, Union Says

Civil servants left to their own devices, says Debi Daviau.

By Jeremy J. Nuttall 21 Apr 2016 | TheTyee.ca

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee's Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

This coverage of Canadian national issues is made possible because of generous financial support from our Tyee Builders Tyee Builders.

The head of a union representing government scientists and other civil servants wants to know why the government is still blocking access to a wide range of websites in certain departments, saying it prevents the workers from doing their jobs.

The president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Debi Daviau, said Internet restrictions imposed on workers by the former Conservative government remain in effect even though the Liberals took power late last year.

"No changes have been made as of yet," said Daviau, whose union represents 57,000 members.

In January 2015, The Tyee reported that some restrictions on what government employees can view online are so intense that many use their private devices to access websites and conduct research or otherwise do their jobs.

The story came after online news service Blacklock's Reporter, which focuses on stories about government business such as tax court and regulations, found out that its website had been blocked by the government.

At the time, Daviau said control over what websites civil servants can access in many departments was preauthorized, seriously limiting what employees could do.

IT overhaul coming

In March, the Treasury Board and Shared Services Canada, which oversees IT, released a report detailing some of the changes it plans to make to the government's IT system.

Along with issues ranging from cyber-security to updating old equipment, the report includes plans to modernize email services and consolidate government data centres, but did not reference the restrictions on website access.

The report said Ottawa has enlisted the help of private firms to decide how to best make the changes.

"(Shared Services') focus is to maintain and improve IT service delivery across the Government of Canada, enhance security, and implement government-wide solutions to transform IT infrastructure to improve value for money and services to Canadians," reads the report.

The report also said a review of IT services would consider the advice of experts and "lessons learned" from past experiences.

Despite the stated goals, Daviau said the union has not been approached for its views on how government IT services can be improved.

"We're quite surprised they would go ahead with an IT modernization without having spoken to any of the public servants who are responsible for the work," she said. "We're sort of beating down the doors of the treasury board in the hopes we can assist the government."

She said the union recently wrote to the government in an attempt to get a place at the table and has yet to receive a response, though she said it might simply be a matter of the government taking its time.

Shared Services Canada did not respond to a request for comment from The Tyee earlier this week, and a spokesman for the treasury board's president, MP Scott Brison, did not reply to emails.

The PIPSC union also took issue with Shared Services Canada in March for a lack of clarity on whether the department would take the advice of consultants hired by the former Conservative government to outsource a large chunk of Ottawa's tech work.

The measures would have resulted in 3,000 layoffs, but the government said it had no plan to implement the suggestion.  [Tyee]

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