Marleau: The gathering storm

Two weeks ago I posted a surprising observation about Information Commissioner Robert Marleau’s annual report: despite a rapidly-growing backlog of complaints from users of the Access to Information system, Marleau has abandoned his power to launch so-called “systemic” investigations into the government’s handling of access requests.

Now here is the text of a scathing letter (.pdf file) from the noted Ottawa lawyer, Col. (ret’d) Michel Drapeau, excoriating Marleau for his management of the Information Commissioner’s office. Highlights:

• Drapeau denounces “a stalemate in which users of the ATIA are stymied in their ability to either obtain disclosure of records within the statutory period or, failing that, to obtain from your office a prompt and effective investigation of their complaints.”

• Drapeau says Marleau’s plans to implement a “triage” system within the growing backlog “does nothing to eliminate or reduce the backlog.”

• He says Marleau is in effect dooming most access requests to even longer waits, based on Marleau’s own judgement about which complaints get to move up the queue, a state of affairs Drapeau calls “un-Canadian and undemocratic treatment of a quasi-constitutional right.”

• He notes that in an unprecedented closed-door, invites-only “consultation” about Marleau’s proposed changes, which was held yesterday at the tony Rideau Club, 25% of invitees were federal public servants, an “over-representation… obviously at the expense of users/ complainants” and “possibly a tell-tale sign of your own disposition and bias… you appear to be more sensitive, attentive and protective of the views and concerns of federal institutions instead of ‘promoting’ the ‘right to know’ of ordinary Canadians.”

It is important to note that Michel Drapeau is neither some random crank nor a full-time critic of the current government. Indeed, last December Peter MacKay appointed Drapeau to the Board of Governors of Collège royal militaire de St-Jean.

So when he decries this government’s “penchant for increased obscurity not transparency” and warns that Bob Marleau (who, it must be stated and emphasized, had an absolutely sterling record of public service before he was appointed Information Commissioner) is turning out to be a toothless watchdog, it is cause for serious concern.

UPDATE: I should note that the Ottawa Citizen has already published a story about the Drapeau letter.

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