Access to Information

February 22nd, 2015

“We are writing to register a complaint with regard to Industry Canada’s use of artificial cost inflation as a means of refusing compliance with Access to Information requests.”  This was our opening line in a letter this February to the Federal Information Commissioner.  You see, in December of 2014 we had filed three Access to Information requests to Industry Canada, James Moore’s Ministry.  Each of our requests was returned by Industry Canada with a demand for payment of processing fees.  A lot of fees, actually.

Our first Access request was for copies of the emails of Ms France Pegeot.  RestoreCSA readers will recall that Industry Canada’s Ms Pegeot has featured in articles here previously, we think she’s got a lot of skeletons crammed in her closet.  During the period covered by our request, Ms Pegeot was a senior advisor in Industry Canada while being simultaneously on the board of directors of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).  As we know, the CSA is an Agency of the Federal Government, reporting to the Minister of Industry via the Standards Council of Canada.  In this therefore, Ms Pegeot’s competing responsibilities appear to be a sizeable conflict of interest.  Further, certain of the CSA’s board approved activities appear to be in material breach of Federal and provincial laws in Canada, and Federal and state laws in the United States. 

When we first heard of Ms Pegeot’s conduct we inquired of the Federal Government.  In response, the Treasury Board Secretariat advised that, notwithstanding legislation to the contrary, the Secretariat is not responsible for policing the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, therefore any conflict involving Ms Pegeot is not their concern.  Likewise, Ms Pegeot’s most recent employer, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), wrote to advise that, notwithstanding their Departmental Code of Ethics, they were not willing to acknowledge a correlation between Ms Pegeot’s conduct and the DFO Code of Ethics preclusions on such conduct.  For its part, Industry Canada wrote to advise that, notwithstanding the CSA’s Government Charter, the Government’s extensive archives on CSA as a Federal Agency, and Hansard records of CSA being clearly defined as a Government Agency, (etc., etc.) the Department does not acknowledge that the CSA legally remains a Federal Agency reporting to the Minister of Industry. 

This is the unfortunate context in which we submitted our Access request for the Pegeot email correspondence in order to assess the extent of her conflicts of interest.

Industry Canada has now responded to our Access to Information Request by advising that the process of filtering the emails in question would require 1,583 hours of time for which we were invoiced $15,830.00.

As we know however, Industry Canada email files are stored by division and section and by name, all files for a particular employee being grouped in one digital location, even the digital backups being organized by group such that the Pegeot emails are all accessible in one location.  In other words, the entirety of the email storage for Ms Pegeot can be accessed, duplicated and transferred for internal review in a few minutes of time. 

Further, all Industry Canada email addresses conform to a common file convention.  As such, filtering the contents of one person’s email address for access, duplication or transfer for internal review takes a few minutes at most. 

A few minutes of transfer plus a few hours of review is not compatible with a quote for 1,583 hours of search time.

Think that’s bad?  Well, the second of our Access requests was for copies of non-email correspondence of Ms Pegeot for the same period.  In this instance, we were advised that 2,633 hours are required to search for the relevant documents. For this we have been invoiced for $26,330.00. 

Similar to notations above, Industry Canada’s non-email correspondence is digitally filed and identified, it is organized in searchable databases by subject, project, name, etc.  Purely hard copy files, to the extent that such legacy files exist, are likewise stored within the division, and often within the direct control of, and often within the office of, the employee herself.  In this, Industry Canada’s quote is entirely implausible.

On a personal note, your correspondent has experience conducting similar searches in the files of, and on behalf of, a number of multinational corporations.  I can say with the authority of experience that finding the requested files does not take over two-thousand, five-hundred hours of time, nor anything remotely close to that figure.

One should also note that in our telephone discussion with Industry Canada’s representatives, their initial response was that they had already conducted a search for Ms Pegeots files and found that she had generated precisely -and only- nine documents during her entire eleven-year tenure in at Industry Canada.  There were no security restricted documents removed from the file, the Department claimed that the nine documents were the sum of her eleven year production.  We don’t think that this claim is credible either.

And it gets worse.  Our third Access request was for copies of Industry Canada’s correspondence related to our company, PS Knight Co Ltd, and the CSA and its affiliates.  We wanted to know what they had been saying about us, what they had said to CSA about us, and what orchestrating between them was underway.  Well, Industry Canada advised that this search will require 27,983 hours of time and we have accordingly been invoiced $279,780.00.

It is difficult to see how this quote could be taken seriously.  Our interpretation of Industry Canada’s response is that the files in question are politically embarrassing or legally dangerous and that artificially inflating the cost of processing our Access to Information request, in this case on a near-comic scale, is being used to legitimize the concealment of these documents indefinitely.

Even if we could afford these kinds of costs, given that Industry Canada’s invoicing seems to be an attempt to refuse Access to Information compliance, it is arguable that a full payment on our part would not generate the requested files anyway.

“Well Gord, where there’s smoke there’s fire.”  So said one Parliamentary veteran about Moore’s cost inflation on this file.  It seems that we’re onto something.  Or, to rephrase, it seems that they’ve been up to something, that there’s evidence in the files, that Ms Pegeot’s up to her neck in it, and that’s why Moore’s not complying with his own Governments Access to Information laws.

But quoting James Moore’s own website; “it is only right that the activities of all those who represent Canadians in Parliament be as open and transparent as possible.”  That is, unless its embarrassing to Moore or hobbles his ambitions or frustrates his minions. 

Apparently the Prime Minister is fighting hard against the entitled clubs of these bureaucratic elites.  That’s what we’re told anyway.  The Prime Minister’s said so repeatedly in numerous speeches over the last year, and a large part of his Conservative re-election campaign is based on this notion of fighting against Ottawa’s entrenched and entitled.  Yet for all his rhetoric, our little company has spent three years fighting for its life against the very bureaucratic elites that Harper claims to be restraining.  And his Minister of Industry isn’t letting up his fight against us.  And Harper seems ok with that.

One begins to question the sincerity of the Prime Minister’s otherwise noble words.  One begins to question the conservative credentials of this Conservative Government.  One begins to wonder if one’s years of toil in the political trenches to elect these people has been badly betrayed.  One begins to question one’s Conservatism.