Iqaluit council commits to access-to-info law by 2023

Decision follows urging of Nunavut’s information and privacy commissioner

Nunavut’s information and privacy commissioner, Graham Steele, presented his case for the City of Iqaluit to be included under the territory’s access to information law on Tuesday, Nov. 9. (Photo by Mélanie Ritchot)

By David Lochead

Iqaluit council wants to bring the city under Nunavut’s access to information law by January 2023.

Councillors unanimously agreed during Tuesday’s meeting to a motion that called for the city to work with the Government of Nunavut to bring it under the law that would require it to make most municipal records available to the public.

The decision followed a presentation by Nunavut’s information and privacy commissioner Graham Steele, who encouraged city council to take the initiative to opt in to the territory’s access to information law.

Nunavut’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act gives citizens the right to ask to see almost any written document held by territorial government departments. The law does not apply to municipalities, but it allows them to ask the GN to extend it to them, Steele said.

“The way the law is written, Iqaluit can just put their hand up and say, ‘We’re ready,’” Steele told city council.

The purpose of the access to information law is to promote good government, as citizens should have a right to know how about decisions their local government makes or how their tax dollars are spent, he said.

When Coun. Joanasie Akumalik asked about the potential disadvantages of the city falling under the access to information law, Steele said that staffing and time can be a challenge.

Adding access to information requests to city staff’s schedule will make them busier, he added.

Steele used the city’s water emergency as an example of how the law could be applied.

Some people will want to know every detail of how the city has handled the crisis. Being open about its operations will make it more likely that residents will see the city’s efforts to address the problem, Steele said.

“Sometimes, it is that release of information that can give your citizens confidence that you are doing the right thing,” Steele said.

Coun. John Fawcett asked who will pay the cost of the city implementing the law. Steele said he himself, as the territory’s commissioner, is not in charge of funding decisions.

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But Steele added that he is meeting with the Government of Nunavut’s deputy minister of community and government services to discuss funding for Iqaluit to be covered under the law.

“I will be your advocate,” Steele said.

Staff training and file management will be the most time-consuming elements in applying the access to information law to the city, Steele said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.

Municipalities may not have their documents organized for access to information requests, Steele said.

“If you’re going to have an access to information system you have to have an idea of where that information actually is,” he added.

Steele said he was happy with city council’s response to his presentation.

“That’s a good sign for the future.”

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