Briefing note shows Bill Boyd was told who was making information requests about government
The Saskatchewan NDP says it is “incredibly concerning” to see evidence that cabinet ministers are being told who is requesting information through the government’s access laws.
The Opposition says it was alarmed to see a SaskPower briefing note from September 2013 for then-Minister Bill Boyd, which detailed not only the specifics of a series of freedom of information (FOI) requests but also who made them.
This is the epitome of Big Brother.
– Nicole Sarauer, interim leader of the Saskatchewan NDP
The note not only outlines the various FOI, or access, requests related to overspending on a particular project, but also that they were made by “Geoff Leo … a journalist who is employed by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Regina.”
“These FOI processes are supposed to confidential,” said Nicole Sarauer, interim leader of the Saskatchewan NDP.
It is the second time in as many weeks that Sarauer has raised concerns about the confidentiality of the freedom of information process.
She said while in this instance the requestor was a reporter, it could just as easily have been a private citizen.
“People of Saskatchewan should be able to access this information. They should be able to ask questions about what the government is doing, without fears that cabinet ministers and the premier are going to know their names,” said Sarauer.
“This is the epitome of Big Brother.”
SaskPower ‘made a mistake’
During the 2016 election campaign, Premier Brad Wall told reporters politicians had nothing to do with freedom of information requests.
“Politicians can’t get involved in the FOI process. You can’t: it’s part of the law,” Wall said on March 24, 2016.
A government spokesperson said while ministers are briefed on the basics of freedom of information requests, as they may have to answer questions that arise from them, it is not normal practice to disclose who has made the request.
“This was a mistake by SaskPower — they shouldn’t have added a name to the fact that there was a request.”
The spokesperson said being briefed on requests “does not mean the minister is involved in the process of responding to the FOI request.”
A lawyer for SaskPower said the company does not regularly provide cabinet ministers with briefing notes related to access requests.
It said when those requests are circulated inside the company, the applicant’s name is redacted.
Saskatchewan’s information commissioner would not comment on the matter, pending a formal review of whether there had been a privacy breach in this case.