N.S. beefs up information and privacy office with new executive role

Justice Minister Mark Furey provides details about cannabis legalization at a news conference in Halifax on Dec. 7, 2017. The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan

Nova Scotia’s justice minister says a new position is being created in the office of the information and privacy commissioner.

Mark Furey said Thursday that an executive director will oversee the privacy element of the office’s duties as part of an attempt to provide it with more resources.

Several commissioners, including Catherine Tully, who is retiring after five years on the job, have complained about a lack of staff to cope with a backlog of cases. The problem has led to long delays – an average of almost 300 days last year – before reviews and complaints are resolved.

Furey said the new position should help accelerate the handling of complaints.

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The province also announced that Carmen Stuart has been appointed as the acting information and privacy commissioner when Tully retires Sept. 1. Stuart, the current director of investigations and mediation, is a long-time employee of the office and has acted in the commissioner’s role in the past.

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Furey said the interview panel to identify Tully’s successor will include a member who is independent of the government.

“There will be a broad promotion of the (job) opportunity for both the (commissioner) and the executive director for privacy,” he said, adding that he hopes to have both positions filled by the end of the year.

Tully was a noted critic of the way the Liberal government handled many of her formal findings.

When she released her last annual report in June, Tully said that between March 2018 and April 2019, government departments “fully accepted” only 40 per cent of formal recommendations after she conducted reviews that often took many months.

She has also pushed to give her office’s decisions binding powers as is the case in other jurisdictions, including British Columbia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia’s ‘failure’ to carry out due diligence on FOIPOP website led to data breach: reports

However, the Liberal government under Premier Stephen McNeil has consistently refused to do it.

“The future of access and privacy rights in Nova Scotia depends on us keeping pace with technology and ensuring that our rights are subject to meaningful and effective oversight,” Tully said in a statement that accompanied her June report.

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“It will take courage and determination on the part of politicians and likely a push from the public to bring our access and privacy laws into the 21st century.”

McNeil wished Tully well on Thursday and noted her work in the privacy sphere.

“People spend a lot of time focusing on freedom of information requests that come in but I think she has highlighted privacy issues and concerns,” he said.

The information and privacy commissioner is responsible for conducting reviews of privacy complaints regarding the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by public bodies.

The office, which marked its 25th anniversary this year, deals with over a thousand calls a year from the public about access and privacy rights and with hundreds of public bodies and municipalities which seek its advice.

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