Access to Information - SCC Edition

February 5th, 2018

“Important Update About Your Bill”  Alright, I’m braced and ready.  “To reduce paper usage, as of February 1, 2018, your bill will no longer include a detailed breakdown of your monthly charges.”  Instead, I’m assured, “these details and more will continue to be available” online.  All I need do is log in and, hey, behold the billing details.

That’s my phone bill, but a lot of billing is like this, my bank statements are online too.  The key is that we’re able to access the record of our phone calls or bank transactions.

I check my monthly call records to ensure that I’m only getting billed for calls I’m actually making.  Well, they’re all listed there, and the records go back for months and months.  And, if for some reason I need the same detail from several years ago, for a small fee I can get dated call records within an hour.  That’s customer service!

So why is this important?  Well, back on January 4th, we filed an Access to Information request, asking the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) to “kindly provide monthly records of / from the [SCC’s] telephone / telecommunications provider showing all incoming and outgoing telephone calls”, for a defined period and including details thereof.  That same day, we filed another Access to Information request covering their cellular devices.

We want this info to check on a couple of general things, and a handful of specific things, but none of these things will be complimentary to the SCC and its slimy CEO.  The SCC you see, is very close to the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), routinely covering for them.  Indeed, the SCC’s leadership comes from the executive ranks of CSA.  We wanted to see how tightly they’re coordinating with each other.  Naturally then, the SCC is stonewalling.

Their response: “please be informed that after a thorough search, no records were found”. 

No phone records, folks.  None.  The SCC has phones of course, phones a’plenty, but no phone bills at all.  You tell me; is that believable?

The SCC continues;  “Detailed incoming call records.  This information was never provided to the SCC by SCC’s telephone / telecommunications provider.  The SCC does not hold records in that regard.”

As above, I can find detailed incoming call records for PS Knight Co in seconds, for calls going back months, and within an hour for calls from years ago.  The SCC may have a different carrier, but all carriers in the country conform to the same regulations for record access and retention.  The SCC then, has the same access to their call records as my company.

Note their wording, that they do “not hold records in that regard.”  That’s important, because they do indeed have access to those records but the author of the SCC’s response may not have been physically holding them in her hand when she wrote that line.  Likewise, I don’t hold a drivers license.  I mean, I’ve got one of course, but I’m not holding it in my hand right now.

Moving on….

“Particulars of call dates, numbers, duration, [etc] are not available for local calls.  This information was not provided to the SCC by SCC’s telephone / telecommunications provider.” 

Rubbish.  But why argue it, the SCC knows it’s rubbish.  Arguing with these people is just pushing wind.

Anyway, after advising that the requested information is unavailable due to planetary alignment, or something, the SCC then, and entertainingly, provides notice of an extension of time to comply with the information request.  They’re keeping the option open, even though they’ve already advised that they’ll not comply, in order to say that they’re still working on it so, you know, they might comply in future.  You can’t get mad at them then, because the file hasn’t been closed. 

Their extension advisory gets a bit peculiar.  Read carefully; “the processing of this request will involve the search and review of each non-SCC phone number through open source information.”  Why?  I can’t think of anything the SCC does, or is supposed to be doing, that could be personally compromising, nor anything that could be called sensitive, in a security sort of way.  Seriously, they’re bureaucrats, not Bond.

The next line is a fun one, reproduced here exactly as written.  Decode this:  “Every non-SCC phone numbers, which is not publicly available at the time of the search, will be severed pursuant to section 19 of the ATI Act.”

I think that means they’ll redact any number that they can’t find in public records.  But their version comes with grammatical violence. 

“For all these reasons,” says SCC, “an extension of 210 days is required […] for the processing of your request.”

I did a test today, to see how much time it took me to download equivalent call records for PS Knight Co.  It didn’t take two hundreds days.  It took 56 seconds.

Readers will recall that Industry Canada once invoiced us for $279,780 for one email search, explaining that it would take one civil servant, working full time, over nine years to run that email search.  But that figure assumed the staffer would work weekends, and civil servants don’t do that.  Without weekends then, the search would take over fifteen years.  They also said it would take 17.5 hours to review the contents of a single cardboard box.  Nothing else, just the box.  A civil servant, squatting on the office floor, starring into a cardboard box, and doing nothing else, for two full days.  Really?  Really?

This pedantic nonsense is the government’s way of saying “no.”  With much experience, I’m quite comfortable predicting that whatever eventually comes from our SCC Access to Information filing, if anything comes at all, it will be so sanitized of meaningful data and so wiped of anything embarrassing or awkward or untoward or worse, that it will be a big nothing, entirely uninformative, pointless, as empty as a Gowlings lawyer.

Ever since the Government launched their first attack on us in 2012, I’ve been increasingly impressed with the accuracy of the BBC program Yes Minister.  That program was supposed to be a satire, not a documentary.  Or an instruction manual.  Yet, as so often, it well sums our experience;

Sir Humphrey Appleby, in response to an Access to Information request:  “Well, this is what we normally do in circumstances like these.
James Hacker: [reads memo] “‘This file contains the complete set of papers, except for a number of secret documents, a few others which are part of still active files, some correspondence lost in the floods of 1967…’  [stops reading]  Was 1967 a particularly bad winter?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: “No, a marvellous winter. We lost no end of embarrassing files.
James Hacker: [continues reading] …“‘Some records which went astray in the move to London and others when the War Office was incorporated in the Ministry of Defence, and the normal withdrawal of papers whose publication could give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence or cause embarrassment to friendly governments.’
James Hacker:  “That’s pretty comprehensive.  How many does that normally leave for them to look at?  [pause]  How many pages does it actually leave?  About a hundred? ...Fifty?  Ten?  Five?  Four?  Three?  Two?  One?  ....Zero?
Sir Humphrey Appleby:  “Yes, Minister.”