Nova Scotia information and privacy watchdog says access to information laws need strengthening

Nova Scotia's government launched a website on Jan. 6, 2017, to submit Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act requests and receive responses. A screenshot of the website

Nova Scotia’s information and privacy commissioner says she wants more power to ensure her decisions requiring the government to release information are actually going to be obeyed.

Catherine Tully recommends in an annual report that if she orders a department to disclose records and it refuses, the onus would be on the province to go to court to seek “a declaration” that they don’t need to obey.

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As it stands, provincial agencies can sit on the documents and force citizens to go through the potentially expensive step of going to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court to press for their release.

Tully’s 34 recommendations in the report released today call for a general strengthening and modernization of the province’s access and privacy laws, which she says haven’t yet entered the digital era.

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For example, she recommends governments comply with requests to provide digital records rather than paper, and calls for governments to stop charging people fees for the time officials spend blacking out information in documents.

The report also calls for penalties of up to $20,000 in fines if government officials deliberately alter a record with the intent of avoiding an access request.

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