Parliament is out of step with the Canadian public

04/09/2013 / Politics 

By Pat Maloney

Nearly everyone who wrote to the Prime Minister regarding Roxanne’s Law, supported the bill. Only a tiny number who wrote, were actually against the bill.

In December 2012, I sent an Access to Information request to the Privy Council Office (PCO) looking for information on MP Rod Bruinooge’s Bill C-510.

I asked for: “all information relating to Bill C-510 including briefing notes, talking points, reports, emails, letters, and any other documents that reference bill C-510”.

where is the infoThe package I finally received contained 713 pages. Access to Information requests are never very quick and almost never take the legislated 30 days. This request took eight months to be received in its entirety.

Pages 1-4 were excluded because of “cabinet confidences”.

Pages 5-59 contained a complete list of “Senate Government Bills” and one entry identified Bill C-510, which is why the pages were included.

Pages 60-125 were all withheld, also because of cabinet confidences.

Pages 126-713 contained letters and emails from members of the public regarding their support or non-support for the bill, along with the PCO’s responses. All responses were identical and all personal information was blacked out.

There were three organizations (The Catholic Women’s League, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Priests for Life Canada) and 423 letters from individuals, all who supported the bill. The Catholic Women’s League stated that they were writing on behalf of 106 of its members.

That’s at least 531 shows of support for the bill (e.g. 423 individuals, plus 106 individuals from one organization, and the other two organizations. I don’t know how many individuals belonged to the other two organizations).

There were a total of 17 letters written from individuals, who were not in support of the bill.

In other words, 97% of people who wrote to the Prime Minister regarding Roxanne’s Law, supported the bill and 3% of those who wrote to the Prime Minister, did not support the bill.

Clearly Parliament is out of step with the Canadian Public.

One “pro-choice” person wrote this letter to the Prime Minister:

“Thank you for supporting the Canadian public in encouraging your members to vote against Roxanne’s Law. I am not normally a supporter of the Conservative Party, but I believe that you are finally listening to the voices of Canadian women on this issue. Well done Mr. Harper.”

The irony of this letter of course, is that Mr. Harper did not in fact, listen to the voices of Canadian women on this issue.

And what was in those 69 pages I couldn’t see? Who knows? I could complain to the Information Commissioner but that would be pointless. Her office would not be able to review those pages either, as it has no authority to see the content of information excluded because of cabinet confidences.

It shouldn’t be this way. At the very least, the Information Commissioner should have the power to view “cabinet confidences” and rule for herself whether or not they should be legitimately excluded from the public’s view. She cannot. And remember that this wasn’t even a government bill. So why did the PCO invoke cabinet confidence anyway?

Look at what the Department of Justice wrote in a document called Strengthening the Access to Information Act:

“A statutory amendment could be enacted to grant the Information Commissioner a limited right of review of the issuance of certificates by the Clerk of the Privy Council, therefore ensuring the Information Commissioner’s review of the Cabinet confidence exclusion.”

This is a golden opportunity for an MP to introduce a private member’s bill to table such an amendment. One wouldn’t even have to be pro-life to support it. This would be about effective oversight to increase government accountability and transparency. It would get all party support.

(For more from Pat Maloney please visit her website Run with Life)

*Please note the correction from 99.7% to 97% (people who wrote in to the PMO in support of Roxanne’s Law)

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