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Nova Scotia county thrashed by information commissioner for failing to follow transparency legislation

Catherine Tully, Nova Scotia's Information and Privacy Commissioner has harshly reprimanded King's County for its failure to respond to access-to-information requests. Alicia Draus/Global News

A report from Nova Scotia’s Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) takes a county government to task for their failure to abide by the province’s freedom-of-information legislation.

Catherine Tully published the report on Tuesday, which found that over a 10-month period, the Municipality of the County of Kings failed to respond to 12 separate access-to-information requests within the legally required time period.

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The commissioner’s report makes no indication what the requests were for and it makes no difference under the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPOP) legislation.

When governments choose not to share information openly; businesses, politicians, journalists, businesses and academics can request information through the province’s FOIPOP Act or access-to-information legislation.

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Municipalities that receive a FOIPOP request must answer to the request within 30 days unless an authorized time extension is taken. The county never implemented those time extensions.

“When public bodies, such as the Municipality in this case, completely ignore their obligations to respond in a timely fashion, this should raise red flags for citizens,” Tully writes in her report.

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McNeil defends right to ignore request from privacy commissioner – Sep 20, 2018

After discussions with the OIPC and agreeing to respond to the requests, the County of Kings produced responses to seven of the 12 applications on July 30, 2018.

Its average response time to those seven requests was 196 days or approximately 6.5 months.

“This, despite the fact that 4 of the requests actually had no responsive records and the remaining 3 had a maximum of 46 responsive pages,” Tully notes in her report.

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The five other requests, some of which are almost a year old, have still gone unanswered.

The person who submitted the requests is unnamed in the report, but Tully does note that they are concerned about the “lack of openness and accountability of the municipality.”

The report says that the municipality has contracted a law firm to process the FOI requests — which would not be an issue if they had the resources needed to respond to FOIPOP requests.

Tully says her investigation made it clear he did not.

“Officials [in the municipality] fail to appreciate the importance of the access rights granted under the Municipal Government Act,” she writes.

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She recommends that the municipality responds to all five of the outstanding requests within 10 days of receiving the report.

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Tully says that her investigation makes it clear that the province’s FOIPOP legislation is outdated as she can only make recommendations and not order a public body to comply with the law — a statement that has been expressed multiple times over the past year and a half.

“As Information and Privacy Commissioner, I only have the authority to recommend that the Municipality respond to each outstanding request,”

“It is time to modernize Nova Scotia’s access-to-information laws to ensure that applicants do not have to wait 11 months to receive access to information to which they are entitled under the law.”

Premier Stephen McNeil has previously said that he will not be expanding the powers of the office.

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