Canada's Privacy Commissioner, and possibly its Information Commissioner, are investigating a federal department's handling of Access to Information requests for Alberta Premier Jim Prentice's expenses from when he was a cabinet minister in Ottawa.
In a letter sent to NDP MP Charlie Angus and obtained by The Globe and Mail, Claude Beaulé, a senior investigator in Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien's office, confirms a "complaint file has been opened." The watchdog's letter, dated Sept. 11, offered no timeline other than pledging to wrap things up "as soon as possible."
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, meanwhile, said it had complained to Canada's Information Commissioner about the case, and was told an investigation would be conducted. A CTF official was among those who made the original requests for Mr. Prentice's expenses, which were initially said to have been destroyed. A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner said earlier this month the office would not confirm if it was conducting an investigation.
The complaints came after a report earlier this month in La Presse that a list identifying people making Access to Information requests for Mr. Prentice's expenses was created and circulated in Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Mr. Prentice served as minister in the department for roughly 18 months, in 2006 and 2007.
Federal guidelines generally put strict limits on who can see the identities of people requesting information, in a bid to ensure the process isn't tainted. The department has said this month that the list was created "for internal administration of Access to Information and Privacy," though it's not clear how widely it was circulated. Mr. Angus said a review is needed.
"Canadians have a right to this information and they have a right to anonymity so there is no repercussion, there is no political interference," Mr. Angus said in an interview. "… I'm very concerned a list was created and a list was passed around. Lists are created for a reason."
The Conservative government has launched its own investigation, though of a different stripe – it's primarily looking into why the information was leaked to La Presse, rather than why the list was created in the first place. Mr. Beaulé's letter suggests his investigation will be broader, citing Mr. Angus's complaint to "investigate not just the nature of this privacy breach, but whether the breach was larger than that acknowledged by officials" of the department.
The Access to Information requests were made by, among others, several political party researchers in Alberta, where Mr. Prentice was at the time seeking the leadership of the province's governing Progressive Conservative Party, which has dealt with a long series of expense controversies recently. Mr. Prentice has since won that race and is now Alberta's premier.
Mr. Prentice's expenses were ultimately released, showing little controversial information, but political opponents of Mr. Prentice in Alberta questioned the integrity of the documents released and wondered why their identities were revealed in the department.
Some also raised questions about the privacy co-ordinator at the department, Kent Glowinski, who has ties to the former federal PC party. That party was merged into the current Conservative Party, and Mr. Prentice once sought the leadership of the former federal PC party. Mr. Prentice has denied any connection with the co-ordinator, who has not responded to several requests for comment.
"I know I've been stonewalled on access to information requests in that department. Do I have to ask: Is there political interference?" asked Mr. Angus, the NDP MP.
The initial requests for Mr. Prentice's record sparked an unusual saga – they were at first said to have been "destroyed," and one requester, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said it asked for a review that was conducted and confirmed the records had been destroyed. The CTF then filed for similar records around the same time period, and was later told that, in fact, Mr. Prentice's expense records did exist. The revelation that about half-a-dozen requestors had been listed and revealed within the department was only the latest development. Mr. Prentice left federal politics in 2010, well before the fight for his expense records began.
Earlier this year, the Information Commissioner warned of the "fragility" of the Access to Information system. "I continue to have serious concerns about the health of the system, and the resulting harm to Canadians' right of access," Commissioner Suzanne Legault said.