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Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Oct. 4, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Oct. 4, 2010. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Tory staffer didn't work alone in vetting ATI requests Add to ...

Two other members of cabinet minister Christian Paradis's political staff were involved in gatekeeping the release of Access to Information documents, internal emails suggest.

Last week, one of Mr. Paradis's aides resigned after The Canadian Press reported he had intervened on at least four occasions in the release of government records.

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Sebastien Togneri had testified earlier in the year that he had only overstepped his bounds a single time when he worked for Mr. Paradis at Public Works.

Mr. Paradis, now Natural Resources Minister, has referred the matter to Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault. "I asked Mr. Togneri, he said it was the only incident, he testified to that. Requests for access to information, I'm not sure if you know how big that file is, it's huge," he said Monday.

"There's a question of trust there, and he assured me it was an error made in good faith. When I found out about these other cases, I accepted his resignation, I sent along the file, as I should - it's my responsibility as minister."

But Mr. Togneri was not the only political staffer within Mr. Paradis's office who was in the loop about sensitive Access to Information requests.

Two policy advisers - Jillian Andrews and Marc Toupin - appear in emails between Mr. Togneri and bureaucrats that were recently delivered to a House of Commons committee, and obtained by The Canadian Press. All three staffers moved from Public Works to Natural Resources with Mr. Paradis last winter.

In July of 2009, Mr. Togneri asked bureaucrats to remove records from an Access to Information request about preparations for U.S. President Barack Obama's first official visit to Canada. Mr. Togneri argued the department was providing too much information, that it was part of daily operations to prepare for such visits - contradicting a senior civil servant's opinion.

Ms. Andrews was copied on a series of emails. "For more in depth analysis, please speak to Jillian," Mr. Togneri wrote, referring to Ms. Andrews.

In another exchange of emails, bureaucrats wanted to know more from Mr. Togneri about material he had highlighted for exclusion from an Access to Information request. The aide directs them to "please contact Marc Toupin on that file."

The emails do not indicate what happened after Mr. Togneri referred bureaucrats to his colleagues.

Ms. Andrews and Mr. Toupin did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Mr. Paradis did not respond directly to questions about the involvement of other staff.

"The commissioner will do whatever she wants. She has the file, she has it completely," Mr. Paradis said. "I'm not here as minister to judge what happened, what the individual did, but one thing is for sure, I found out about these incidents on Thursday."

The office of the information commissioner is currently poring over more than 1,200 pages of documents from Public Works. It will decide whether to launch a fresh investigation, or whether to widen its existing probe.

Ms. Andrews was called as a witness before the Commons access to information committee last spring when Mr. Togneri identified her as colleague who also reviewed the release of documents.

But Ms. Andrews was shielded from appearing after the Conservative government declared that only ministers would speak on behalf of political staff. They also refused to make available any of their internal communications.

Both the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois have called for Mr. Paradis to resign.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who sits on the Commons committee reviewing access issues, said he believes the government became worried that more damaging information would emerge.

"We certainly believe that this is systemic within the government, that there is a pattern here of denying access or changing information that should be available under access to information," Mr. Easter said in an interview.

"To us, this seems more widespread than just Togneri."

It is common practice for ministerial staff to receive notification of the pending release of access-to-information requests so that they can prepare communications material. But as Prime Minister Stephen Harper's chief of staff noted earlier this year in a memo, political staff do not have the delegated authority to make access to information decisions.

The case that spurred the initial probe by the information commissioner and the Commons committee involved an access-to-information request made by The Canadian Press.

Mr. Togneri disagreed with some of the records that were being released. A senior bureaucrat rushed to the Public Works mailroom to retrieve, and later reduce, the package. Mr. Togneri told the committee he had made a "mistake," and said it was the only time he had taken such action.

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