Canada’s information commissioner says she’s handcuffed by legislation

OTTAWA – Canada’s Information Commissioner believes police should look into evidence of “systemic interference” with access to information requests by three Conservative political staffers, but says she has no power to call them herself.

“The act limits my ability to share this information with appropriate investigative agencies,” Suzanne Legault said Sunday in an interview with Tom Clark on The West Block.

The act forbids anyone to “direct, propose, counsel or cause any person” to conceal a record, with a maximum penalty of $10,000 and two years in jail. No one has yet been convicted under the section.

“It could have been possible to refer the matter during the investigation if the people were employees of a government institution, but political staffers are not considered to be employees,” said Legault.

Legault delivered her second report Thursday following an investigation into cases that date back to 2009 in the office of cabinet minister Christian Paradis, who held the Public Works portfolio at the time.

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She had already found against one staff member, Sebastien Togneri, in a previous investigation that was sparked by a Canadian Press access-to-information request.

Togneri resigned in 2010 after The Canadian Press reported he had been involved in other cases of meddling. Colleagues Marc Toupin and Jillian Andrews also turned up in emails tabled with a parliamentary committee.

Legault looked at five additional cases, finding Togneri interfered in all of them, Toupin in one and Andrews in one. The records ranged from the sensitive asbestos file to U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Canada.

Andrews currently works as a senior aide in the office of Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq. It is not clear if Toupin is still in the government’s employ.

“These staffers inserted themselves in various ways into a process that was designed to be carried out in an objective manner by public servants,” Legault wrote in her report.

Legault told Clark the staffers gave orders to hold back some of the information which had already been cleared by public servants.

The access to information process is supposed to be objective, non-partisan, and free from political intervention and political interference.

Legault says Canadians should be very worried that the interference will go on without any repercussions.

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“The access to information act is designed and is a cornerstone of democracy and it’s designed to ensure that Canadians can hold their governments to account.”

With files from Canadian Press

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