By Damien Kurek
Transparency is essential to democracy because it allows Canadians to see how their government is functioning, its priorities and who to hold accountable when something goes wrong or malfeasance occurs. Open government should not be just a partisan concept to buy votes but a crucial part of Canadian democracy.
Trust needs to be established between elected officials and their constituents; and, a big part of that is government being truthful with Canadians. Access to information requests (ATIPs) are a way for Canadians to ensure governmental transparency by obtaining government-oriented information including documents, such as briefing notes and correspondence, that provide insight into the moving parts of government. In other words, “what you see, is what you get.”
The unfortunate truth is that despite campaign promises and much rhetoric, the Trudeau Liberals have overseen a deterioration of the ATIP system resulting in long delays, heavily redacted documents and non-answers. As a result, Canadians are kept in the dark on a myriad of pressing matters such as government spending and scandal. This is not just incompetence, this is an attack on Canadians’ “right to know” and has become systemic in the Liberal Government.
The Liberals have capitalized on their own lack of transparency to take advantage of the privacy rights of Canadians. Unfortunately, there are many examples of this such as the Winnipeg lab scandal documents and the WE charity cover up, but to highlight this point I want to share three lesser-known studies this year conducted by the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI), of which I am a member, where the Liberal Government disregarded the privacy of Canadians.
Here are the studies the ETHI Committee has conducted on privacy issues:
• It emerged late last year that the Public Health Agency of Canada monitored millions of devices and collected information from users without them reasonably knowing. They planned to continue this practice for several years.
• The Royal Canadian Mounted Police has used technology that scraped social media for the faces of users and then uploaded to a data-bank for the purpose of facial recognition even though it was widely known to be inaccurate and against the law.
• Today, ETHI is studying the RCMP’s use of Pegasus Spyware, which has the capability of invading your phone undetected and obtaining data on your mobile device such as text messages, contacts, your search history, and data from a myriad of other applications on your phone.
In all these cases, the nonpartisan Privacy Commissioner, whose role it is to oversee federal privacy matters, was either not consulted or blatantly ignored. The work of journalists and the Official Opposition brought these privacy infringements to light, not the Liberals’ honesty or integrity. This type of attitude is unacceptable and has cultivated a culture of secrecy and entitlement.
When the government does not respond to access to information requests in a meaningful manner, it takes away the ability for citizens to be informed about issues that matter to them, including privacy rights.
The culture of secrecy and cover-ups is hurting Canadians’ ability to trust in their government and it needs to change.
It’s an honour to be the Member of Parliament for Battle River—Crowfoot, and, in that role, you can be sure I will continue to stand for good governance and transparency.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this column, you are encouraged to write Damien at 4945-50th Street, Camrose, Alberta, T4V 1P9, call 780-608-4600, text 403-575-5625, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also stay up to date with Damien by following him on social media @dckurek. If you are in need of assistance regarding a Federal Government program, or need assistance and don’t know where to turn, feel free to reach out to MP Kurek’s office.