GN needs ‘attitude change’ in disclosing information: privacy commissioner

The Nunavut government needs an “attitude change” in its views on sharing information with the public — something the territory’s information and privacy commissioner hopes to see progress on next week in the legislature.

MLAs will meet for a day and a half Monday and Tuesday to discuss Graham Steele’s 2021-2022 annual report on information and privacy in the GN.

“Information is like the blood of the government,” Steele said in an interview with Nunatsiaq News.

“If citizens are going to believe in their government … the people of Nunavut need to know what their government is doing. And that means releasing information that needs to be released.”

One topic covered in Steele’s report is bringing municipalities under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which he has discussed with Iqaluit city council and the Nunavut Association of Municipalities.

Residents deserve to know what their municipalities are doing, but there’s no law saying that the hamlets have to share, he said.

Steele pointed to the Iqaluit water emergency last fall as an example where, he said, the City of Iqaluit released some information because it wanted to, not because it legally had to.

Most communities in Nunavut, though, already operate with small staffs and have other more pressing issues to deal with.

“Their main concern when they wake up in the morning is making sure that the water truck is on the road and the sewage truck is on the road,” Steele said.

If hamlets are to be brought under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, it will have to be done carefully so they aren’t set up for failure, he said.

That includes teaching them good information management practices and the GN providing resources so they can fulfil information requests.

The Department of Community and Government Services said it is working on that now, Steele said.

“I want the municipalities to want it and I want them to be ready for it,” he said.

Other topics covered in the report that may be brought up next week are some departments’ failures at following the law, and others such as the Health Department that set a good example for disclosing information.

Steele said he wants the authority to order the release of information given to the commissioner, which hasn’t been done because of the GN’s other priorities such as housing availability and, he added, one other reason.

“The second reason is I know that there are some people in government who are afraid that the commissioner will make a bad decision and they don’t want to have to obey,” he said, adding commissioner’s orders can be taken to court and overruled.

Steele said that in his role he’s only a servant of the MLAs and that it’s up to them to understand the issues he’s presented and to press ministers to do better.

“I’m going to ask them to do the work that only they can do,” he said.

“If they listen to me and do nothing, well, that’s a message to the GN about what the MLAs think needs to be done.”

The hearings Monday and Tuesday of the legislative assembly’s standing committee on oversight of government operations and public accounts will be televised.

The first session opens Monday at 1:30 p.m. and can be viewed on local community cable stations, on Bell on channel 513, on Shaw on channels 289 or 489. They will also be livestreamed at http://video.isilive.ca/nunavut.

On FM radio, they will be available from the floor at 92.5, in Inuktitut at 94.7 and in English at 102.1.

David Venn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News