The pen is mightier than the representative

Does the province's children and youth representative have the right to access confidential cabinet documents? Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond - who recently requested such records as part of an investigation into the government's child in the home of a relative program - says yes. The Campbell administration says no. So, just to make sure the government's opinion prevails, it has introduced an amendment stating she doesn't have that authority.

At issue is the legislation governing the representative's office.

That law presently gives her the right to all government documents regardless of "any claim of confidentiality or privilege" except one based on solicitor-client privilege.

The representative contends that means she has a right to cabinet documents, which she has obtained in the past.

In response, Mike de Jong told reporters the right doesn't include those documents because the government is prohibited from releasing cabinet confidences under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

But our reading of that act is the prohibition only applies to the government's response to freedom of information requests - not the representative's rights.

As for whether Ms. Turpel-Lafond has obtained cabinet documents in the past, the attorney general said "there has only been one or two requests for access to cabinet related documentation" - neither of which were filled.

When pressed if that meant the representative has never been in possession of such documentation, the attorney general said "I can't say that with certainly. But the issue has crystallized with respect to a particular request."

The request was made as part of an investigation into the government's child in the home of the relative program and a decision to wind it down in favour of a new extended family program.

Before giving the representative those documents, the government wanted her to sign a protocol placing restrictions on the public release of the information in them - something Ms. Turpel-Lafond refused to do.

"The protocol would basically give them a veto over any of the material I saw. So if I see material I wanted to put in the report, they could say, 'No, you can't put that in your report. So I can't give them a veto over my reports. That's my independence," she explained.

The attorney general said other independent officers of the legislature - such as the auditor general - have signed similar protocols.

But, instead of getting into a court fight over whether the representative has a right to access cabinet documents without going through such a process, the government is changing the law so it states she doesn't have that power.

And that troubles the representative, who was notified about that amendment on the same day it was introduced.

"I signed up for the job on the basis that I had a unanimous statute with the powers in it to do the job," she said. "But now some members of the legislature are going to change this statute."

The following is a complete copy of that notification, which came from the premier's deputy minister Allan Seckel.

Allan Seckel's letter to Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

1 Comment

I think it's time both Marys (or is it Maryies?) stop showing off for the cameras and made a deal. We like 'em both.

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