Access to Information
Access to government records is essential for transparency and meaningful public participation in democratic governance and it is an important mechanism for holding government officials accountable to the public. Access to information legislation establishes a process to obtain access to government records, however in practice this process often seems to impose barriers to disclosure. Requests under access to information legislation can be frustrated by high fees charged by departments for document searches, exceedingly long delays in processing time, and excessive redactions in records that are released. Clinic projects focus on addressing these barriers. The Clinic also uses access to information requests to construct evidentiary records in litigation and law reform projects and to undertake exploratory research on prospective new projects.
The Clinic was retained by a client to assist in the filing of a complaint under the Alberta Human Rights Act alleging discrimination in Alberta Health’s funding model. In preliminary work to prepare for this complaint, the Clinic conducted research into the history and execution of the funding for gender affirming surgeries and we found that much of this information was not on the public record. Accordingly, the Clinic filed an access to information request to Alberta Health in 2018 to build an evidentiary record of the discriminatory treatment against transgender individuals. While some information was released, Alberta Health did not respond to the requests in a timely manner, and the Clinic requested a review by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for an inquiry into why the requests were not addressed within the timelines required by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Alberta).
In July 2017, the Clinic agreed to assist an individual conducting research into the outcomes of creative environmental sentences, including one of the largest environmental sentences ever imposed in Canada (R v Syncrude, 2010 ABPC 229), with accessing information on how or why creative sentencing orders are made and how remediation or research projects are selected for funding by these orders. The Clinic filed a request for records under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Alberta) with Alberta Justice in relation to a creative environmental sentence imposed in June 2017 for the release of hydrocarbons into the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton. The Clinic received only 35 out of 857 pages of responsive records from Alberta Justice, and accordingly the Clinic filed an application with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner seeking an order for full disclosure. In 2021 the Commissioner granted disclosure of the records, denying claims by Alberta Justice that the records were properly withheld based on solicitor-client privilege.
In February 2023, the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) issued an Environmental Protection Order against Imperial Oil in relation to a release of industrial wastewater from the Kearl oil sands mine. Public disclosure thereafter confirmed that Imperial Oil had informed the AER of leaking substances from the mine in May 2022, but the AER did not disclose this information at the time to the public or potentially affected communities. In March 2023 the Clinic filed a request for an investigation under the Act with the Information and Privacy Commissioner in relation to whether the AER complied with its obligations under section 32.