Reprinted with permission from the the Toronto Star
Thursday, August 9, 2001
When it comes to access to information, Jean Chrétien's government wants to keep even its own backbench MPs in the dark.
Troubled that a government review of the 18-year-old Access to Information Act is being conducted by bureaucrats behind closed doors, Liberal MP John Bryden, eight other Liberal backbenchers and five opposition MPs set up their own committee to consider changes in the act.
The MPs who make up this ad hoc committee are committed to holding public hearings in Ottawa this month, while most parliamentarians take the summer off.
In order to get a better handle on how the law works and why so much information is exempt from public scrutiny, Bryden wrote to the Prime Minister and other ministers, asking them to let officials appear before the committee.
The only response he got was from the Prime Minister's Office, which refused to allow staff to participate.
Last week, Liberal House Leader Don Boudria made it clear that no public servants would be permitted to appear.
He said that since Bryden's committee was not sanctioned by Parliament, it could not provide officials with the legal immunity they require.
Legal immunity from whom? Boudria also claimed that the public would be able to have its say after the government tabled whatever changes to law it decides to make.
The message couldn't have been clearer: The government will decide what the public is allowed to see and what is to be kept secret.
Public input will only be tolerated if presented to a government-controlled committee.
And the government will brook no dissent from backbenchers brazen enough to believe they are serving the people who elected them.
The Central Committee has spoken. So much for any improvement to access to information.