Province short on freedom of information

Reprinted with permission from CBC News

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Thursday, April 25, 2002

Winnipeg - Manitobans are filing a record number of complaints about troubles they're facing while trying to access public information, according to the provincial ombudsman's annual access and privacy report.

Provincial Ombudsman Barry Tuckett says complaints almost doubled between 1999 and 2000.

"What we saw was unnecessary delays in responding to access requests. It was as a result of a change in the way applications for access were coordinated," he says.

"Also, we found that the access requests some of them were looked at in sort of a way to try to justify denial."

Attitude may undermine public confidence 

Tuckett says government agencies and departments may need a refresher course on freedom of information legislation.

He says there are legitimate reasons for government to withhold certain information, but attempting to avoid public criticism or embarrassment isn't one of them.

"Departments have a duty to assist applicants in getting a response that is without delay, openly,accurately and completely that's the duty that they have," he says.

"It's fine when the information is very positive towards government, but when it isn't quite so positive, if there's a lot of steps taken to try to resist access, what that does is it undermines public confidence."

Sixty-six per cent of the complaints in the report were about provincial government departments and agencies. The rest were about public organizations, health professionals, and health care facilities.

Manitoba Ombudsman: Access & Privacy Division

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