Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Is the business of the public the public's business?

Ontario's Information and Privacy Commissioner Ontario (IPC), Dr. Ann Cavoukian, made a presentation to St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto on November 24, 2011.

It was called Opening the Door: Ontario’s Hospitals and FOI.

It was about the upcoming legislation that brought hospitals in under the Freedom of Information Act in Ontario.

I have identified below, a few key slides from that presentation.

There is no mention in the presentation about the abortion exclusion.

There are lots of mentions about how important access to information is. In fact, that is the whole point of the presentation.

Why is FOI essential?
Access and Transparency = Accountability = Democracy

A Free and Democratic Society
Government transparency and access to information are vital ingredients for a free and functioning democratic society;
When information is freely available, the public may question the actions of their government and participate meaningfully in policy decisions –this is not possible if government activities are hidden from public view.
Transparency helps to create a culture of accountability

It’s the Public’s Business
“We do not, and never will, accept the proposition that the business of the public is none of the public’s business.”
—The Honourable Ian Scott, July, 1985.

Application of Exemptions and Exclusions 
Not all exemptions are mandatory – exercise discretion in favour of disclosure;
Exclusions mean records are not subject to FIPPA –often the records can still be disclosed unless another statute prohibits disclosure;
Ask “Why shouldn’t we disclose?” NOT “Do we have to disclose?”

Key Messages
Transparency is a public good, not a burden;
Treat the Act as a starting point, not the end of the story;
Do not turn FOI into a technical “legal” exercise – there are other equally important considerations;
Be proactive –the Act should be last resort for citizen access.

IPC Philosophy The Essential 3 C’s
Consultation: by keeping open the lines of communication;
Co-operation: rather than confrontation, in resolving complaints;
Collaboration: by working together and seeking partnerships to find joint solutions.

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