This is from the Canadian Press. What a farce! Roberts thought the registry should go on line and be improved not shut down! The Conservatives have no sense of shame but quote someone completely out of context!
OTTAWA — The Conservative government has killed a flawed but workable information registry rather than open itself to real public scrutiny, says an academic who was quoted glowingly Monday by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The Conservative party line backfired when Alasdair Roberts - "a leading expert on access to information law," according to Treasury Board President Vic Toews - trashed their talking points moments after the daily question period.
At issue is a 19-year-old registry known as CAIRS, for Co-ordination of Access to Information Requests System.
Created in 1989 to allow central government oversight - and control - of all access requests, the system has slowly evolved into a crucial catalogue allowing a public signpost to millions of previously released documents.
The Canadian Press revealed on the weekend that Treasury Board quietly killed the registry last month.
Under outraged questioning Monday in the Commons, Harper said the plug was pulled because CAIRS is expensive and slows access to government information.
Harper then cited a 2003 report by Roberts on government secrecy.
"It (CAIRS) was called the product of a political system in which centralized control is an obsession and that is why the government got rid of it," Harper told the Commons.
Toews subsequently claimed the same virtuous high ground, citing Roberts verbatim.
But neither Harper nor Toews mentioned that Roberts had recommended fixing the problem by making the registry public online - something the federal information commissioner reported in 2004 could be done "at virtually no cost" to government.
Roberts subsequently took on the task on his own time and website, and it his been maintained since 2006 by CBC Radio reporter David McKie.
"They really don't care what I think about CAIRS or any other aspect of ATI," Roberts said Monday from New Delhi, India.
"If they did they would have taken my advice about CAIRS a few years ago when I said they ought to switch on the capacity to make the entire thing publicly accessible."
Roberts, a Canadian who's about to take a new academic posting at Suffolk University Law School in Boston, suggested the Conservatives have simply gone to a less transparent method of centrally overseeing sensitive access requests.
"How does the communications office of PCO look down into the system and figure out what requests they care about?" he asked.
"Are they going to tell us they just don't do that anymore? How have they changed the game? What's the new process for oversight and co-ordination?"
For a Harper government that is compulsive about message management and has slowed access-to-information requests to an historic crawl, the question is highly relevant.
The number of formal complaints about late, incomplete or censored access requests almost doubled last year to 2,387.
Liberal Leader Stephane Dion called the government's virtuous citation of Roberts' critique "an absurdity."
"Are you telling me that as a citizen it is better to look at the registry of every single department and agency? Or to have one registry?" Dion said outside the Commons.
"Obviously, they are undermining transparency, accountability. It's the most secretive government in the history of our country."
NDP Leader Jack Layton pointed out that the system was actually implemented in 1989 by Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney "so the criticism seems a little misplaced by Mr. Harper and his team."
Layton said holding government to account is the key role of opposition MPs, the media and citizens at large.
"And if they can't find information about what the government is doing, then they can't hold the government accountable. This is part of a pattern."
Hosted by Copyright © 2008 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.