Nunavut ATIPP tips public on their information rights

Brochures hitting northern communities on privacy rights and how to seek information

By DAVID MURPHY

The Government of Nunavut is informing Nunavummiut about their options when it comes to government-stored information.

The GN is distributing brochures around the territory at health centres, gathering places and other selected locations to inform people about how to fill out access to information requests for government stored documents and information that the public has a right to see.

It outlines how people can get in touch with the Access to Information and Privacy Protection unit to ensure private information stays with the government. It also explains how to fill out an ATIPP request, the $25 fee and the purpose of ATIPP’s services.

“We developed brochures in plain language,” said Jessica Bell, manager of access to information and privacy protection in Nunavut. “We decided the best way to do it was to strip it down to the basics and get the conversation started.”

Last year, 119 ATIPP requests were submitted, and requests have been on rise for three fiscal years since 2008-2009, when 70 were made.

The most requested documents involved the departments of health and social services, 23, justice, 20, and education, 15.

The rise in ATIPP requests comes down to spreading the word and educating people on the right to request information, and the growth of the territory, said Bell.

“We’re in a lot of different areas, we do a lot more contracting — we’re out there,” said Bell. “I think the awareness of it is one of the biggest things for sure.”

Nunavut’s ATIPP department is overlooked by the information and privacy commissioner, Elaine Keenan Bengts, who reviews all disputes related to ATIPP requests when applicants are not satisfied with the government’s response.

“[It] doesn’t speak to the work we do,” said Bell of getting reviewed. “I think it speaks to the education and what we recommend for individuals.”

“It’s great to be reviewed. It ensures we do the process right.”

The director of communications at the GN, Pam Coulter, said the brochure is not linked to any complaint, event, or report that has occurred, but she wants to people to be aware of the right to privacy protection.

In a recent ATIPP public service announcement, it said, “The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act ensures you can feel safe and secure providing personal information to the government.”

But mistakes do happen when processing information Bell said, and the privacy commissioner stressed in her recent annual report that, although the rules for privacy are clear and focused, they are unenforceable.

“There is absolutely no mechanism provided for in the [Privacy] Act to ensure compliance or allow redress when the rules are not followed,” said Bengts in her annual report.

The maximum penalty for a government official found in breach of the act is a $5,000 fine and is guilty of an offence punishable on summary review.

However she does go on to say when privacy breaches do occur, they are “unintentional or inadvertent, or simply done without thought about the privacy implications.”

For Bell, she hopes people can trust the government with their information.

“I would like to think that they do,” said Bell. “It’s difficult as an individual, because governments can be intimidating.”

“We always encourage individuals to talk to someone about the process. We can build that trust as well.”

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