Access to info watchdog lambastes Nunavut government in latest report

“These recommendations come to nothing”


Nunavut’s information and privacy commissioner is tired of being ignored by the Legislative Assembly.

In her 2010-11 annual report, tabled during a lightning-quick mini-session of the assembly Sept. 28, Elaine Keenan Bengts seethes at the inaction that greeted her previous reports, which among other things, called upon the Government of Nunavut to extend access to information rules to municipalities.

“It is frustrating, to say the least, when year after year, these recommendations come to nothing,” Keenan Bengts writes.

So this year, Keenan Bengts makes a single recommendation; one she also made two years ago, that would give the commissioner’s office more power to enforce the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Currently, the act doesn’t have any means of forcing the government to comply.

The only consequence in the act is a maximum $5,000 fine for anyone who knowingly collects or uses personal information in a way that’s against the rules.

But Keenan Bengts writes that situations where a government worker deliberately releases someone’s private information are rare.

Far more likely, she said, are accidental releases, for which there are no consequences under current legislation.

“In virtually all privacy complaints I have received to date, the privacy breach was unintentional or inadvertent or simply done without thought about the privacy implications,” she writes.

“This doesn’t make the breach any more acceptable to the individual whose privacy has been breached, but the act provides no redress and no solution.”

In her report, Keenan Bengts cites the case of a Nunavut man who filed a complaint with her office complaining that his former supervisor at a GN department or agency released information about the employee after he was fired.

The commissioner couldn’t find the exact source of the leak, but said government offices in small communities need to be especially careful in protecting sensitive information.

Two years ago Keenan Bengts called on the GN to update its access to information and privacy legislation, and urged the government to expand the law to include Nunavut municipalities.

Premier Eva Aariak said in a statement to Nunatsiaq News that changes to the act are coming.

“Our government absolutely agrees with the recommendations in the information and privacy commissioner’s annual report,” Aariak said.

“I am pleased to say that a review of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is currently underway which will enable the GN to move forward with updates to the act. Our goal is to amend the ATIPP Act by 2012.”

The premier’s statement also adds that the government supports extending access to information and privacy rules to municipalities, but is concerned that hamlets may not have enough resources.

The GN is “looking at ways to… enable municipalities to be able to live up to expectations under the ATIPP Act once the Act is changed to include them,” the statement said.

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