Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The abortion exclusion clause - no transparency here

Nobody asked for the abortion exclusion clause to be inserted into Bill 122 (the Broader Sector Accountability Act and the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Not a single person. Not a single organization. Nobody.

So how did the exclusion clause end up in the Bill?

There were no hospitals advising for the exclusion clause. There were no physicians advising for the exclusion clause. There was no public at large advising for the exclusion clause.

There was one person though, who advised the government against putting in the exclusion clause.

Through a Freedom of Information request, I learned that Cybele Sack, a patient care advocate, advised the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to not include the abortion exclusion clause. Ms. Sack made her submission on November 23, 2010:
"Current provisions in Bill 122 which should be reconsidered given the patient safety context:- Not applying it to boards of health, health professionals' personal practice, abortion services..."
If doctors and physicians had advised the government to put the clause in (as my MPP Madeleine Meilleur indicated to me), I would have seen those recommendation in the FOI. 

No other stakeholder made any reference to the clause. Their presentations are here and here. The word "abortion" doesn't appear anywhere in these consultations.

In any event, the clause was already in the Bill before public consultations took place. If someone had asked the government to put the clause in, I would see that in what I received. I didn't. 

Did the Minister put the clause in herself for ideological reasons?

I've given Minister Deb Matthews ample opportunity to explain the source of the clause. But she can't, or won't, or doesn't want to.

The only logical explanation is that--contrary to my MPP's statements that the Ministry doesn't put in clauses for their own sake, but rather that it is only done after public consultations--the Ministry or Minister put this clause into the Bill.

Here is the narrative of what Ms. Meilleur told me when I met her in her office:
I asked her why the exclusion clause was included in the Bill. She said that it came into affect:
"to assist hospitals, at the request of the hospitals, to maintain the quality and the privacy of the information. So it was not specific to abortion, it was among other things...I don't think you'd like your private information to be disclosed to the public." 
When I pressed her further she said:
"at the request of the hospital, at the request of the physician, this was supported...the objective of this government and past governments have put in place the Freedom of Information Act, so it was to protect certain information, and this was added because of concerns the physicians had and the concern the hospitals had, so that's why it's in place." 
I then asked her to confirm that the hospitals and physicians has asked to have this exclusion clause. Her response was: 
"When we do amendments it's not because the government that decides there is an amendment, it's at the request of others and it's discussed and its put forward after wide consultations with those concerned". 
As I continued to press her on this, she responded: 
"You know what, it's not my Ministry so I don't know all the details, so I think that these questions should be put to the Ministry of Health to see how it came about. You will get the information." 
She said it was: 
"the hospitals, the physicians and the public at large...the Minister can give you the specifics...the Minister has all the answers...your questions are very detailed...send her a letter and cc me so when she replies I will receive your response...the Ministry has all the expertise and all the answers..."
It may be the case that the Minister has all the answers. But she won't share them with me. After sending her many emails and calling her office many times, I still don't have any of the answers, never mind "all the answers". 

The only feasible answer is that the Minister herself is responsible for the clause. A clause that does away with our access to information rights.

If I'm wrong, she should let me know.

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