Nova Scotia’s information and privacy commissioner says the province’s access and privacy laws are in need of a complete overhaul.
Tricia Ralph, in a report released Thursday, said the legislation hasn’t been updated in almost 30 years. As a result, she says the laws are not up to the task of protecting Nova Scotians’ access and privacy rights.
“Nova Scotia was once a proud leader in the access to information realm as the first in Canada to enact a Freedom of Information Act in 1977,” Ralph said in her report.
“Unfortunately, despite replacing that act … in 1993, Nova Scotia is no longer a leader.”
Ralph’s report highlights the fact that Premier Tim Houston’s government gave the justice minister a mandate to amend the act just over a year ago, but very little has been done since then. “What’s needed now is … substantial changes to bring the act in line with modern access and privacy laws,” the report says.
“There is no need to reinvent the wheel — Nova Scotia can look to other jurisdictions to speed along this process,” Ralph wrote.
As well, she cited a 2017 call for action from the province’s previous information and privacy commissioner, Catherine Tully, saying the “changes that were needed in 2017 are still needed in 2022.”
‘The time for change is now’
All of Tully’s 34 recommendations are included in Ralph’s report, many of them updated with new suggestions for the Progressive Conservative government.
“Access to information and privacy rights are fundamental to the functioning of an effective democracy,” the report says. “I am hopeful that the recommendations put forth by my predecessor and I will be accepted and implemented sooner rather than later. The time for change is now.”
Among Ralph’s key recommendations is a call for more oversight through an independent review process.
Nova Scotia is the only jurisdiction in Canada where the information and privacy commissioner is not an independent officer of the legislature. Under the current system, recommendations made by the commissioner regarding the release of information are often ignored by the public bodies covered by the act because the office lacks the authority to demand action.
Ralph also found that Nova Scotia’s privacy laws contain loopholes and lack almost all the modern privacy protections found in other Canadian jurisdictions.
“At a time when public bodies and municipalities are collecting more personal information than ever, the laws have not kept up to ensure protection of that information,” her report says.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 28, 2022.