ethics office to scrutiny: watchdog
Increasing secrecy 'is a pattern,' John Reid says
Reprinted with permission from the Ottawa
Monday, December 16, 2002
The Ottawa Citizen
Legislation that shields the new federal ethics office from public
scrutiny is another step in increasing government secrecy, Canada's
information commissioner told a Commons committee yesterday.
"This is a pattern," John Reid said, as he called for
Parliament's new ethics watchdog to be covered under the Access to
In October, the Chrétien government introduced a bill calling for
the creation of an ethics commissioner who would have the authority to
investigate and rule on allegations that MPs or senators violated a new
code of conduct for the Commons and Senate.
The office of the current ethics counsellor, Howard Wilson, is
subject to Canada's access laws, meaning that the public can request and
often receive copies of documents from his office.
But that's not the case with the new ethics office, said Mr. Reid.
He told the ad hoc multi-party committee of MPs reviewing the access
act that the exclusion represents a further creeping toward more
secrecy, suggesting that the government seizes every chance it gets to
keep its warts from public view.
"What do you think of the government's proposal in the new
legislation to eliminate the office of the ethics commissioner being
subject to the Access to Information Act?" Mr. Reid asked the
"The previous office was subject to the Access to Information
Act. We had no problem. They had no problem.
"We see that cabinet, where it has a choice between putting
something in or taking it out, tends to take it out," Mr. Reid
Exempting the new ethics office from the access act was proposed as a
means for rank and file parliamentarians to maintain control over the
process, which, under the current system, is largely in the hands of the
prime minister, Liberal committee member Derek Lee suggested.
The ad hoc committee, which lacks official parliamentary standing,
was established last year to give backbench and opposition MPs a voice
in reform of the access legislation.
It is urging the government to expand its 19-year-old access to
information law to include nearly 200 additional federal organizations
that receive public money.
But in his appearance yesterday, Mr. Reid suggested that, while the
committee calls for more transparency, it also suggests steps for more
secrecy, such as excluding informal notes made by public servants from
the act and exempting draft internal audit reports from release.
Mr. Reid has called for a full review of the access law by a Commons
committee with parliamentary standing.
It has also encouraged greater openness, calling, for example, for
access to deliberations of the federal cabinet after 15 years instead of
© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen