Commissioner Worries FOIP Act is Facing ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’

November 30, 2011

Information and Privacy Commissioner Frank Work has completed a study on legislation in Alberta which contain clauses exempting a particular bill from the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP).

Commonly known as “paramountcy”, provisions are placed in bills which make that bill paramount to FOIP, which means the bill is not subject to provisions of the FOIP Act. There are 38 acts or regulations in Alberta which contain a paramountcy clause at the moment.

Work says left unchecked, the practice of taking other enactments out of FOIP by making them paramount has the potential to turn the Act into a piece of Swiss cheese. “After completing this study I have come to two conclusions. First, the government uses paramountcy to make it clear that FOIP doesn’t apply, and it is said that specific circumstances are so compelling that the chance cannot be taken to grant access to particular records. Second, when the Legislature deals with paramountcy provisions, it is done one by one, and members are not in a position to see the forest, and may not be aware of how many of these paramount provisions there are.”

Work will provide his report to the Legislature with a couple of recommendations. One, that when a Bill is introduced containing such a clause that it be flagged to whichever Legislative Committee that reviews the bill. Second, by urging the new Information and Privacy Commissioner to adopt the practice of specifically checking with the minister responsible so the clause can be considered in full knowledge, so it can be determined if such a clause is fully justifiable.