Inaccessible Information (Again!)

January 31st, 2016

We recently submitted an Access to Information filing to the Standards Council of Canada, a regulatory body of Industry Canada. 

Though not our first experience of Access to Information stonewalling, their latest response is perhaps the most egregious.

But first, and in point form, here’s some background:

  • The Standards Council of Canada (SCC) is the regulatory body responsible for policing standards development organizations, including the most dominant of these, an Agency of Industry Canada called the Canadian Standards Association (CSA).
  • Approximately one thousand CSA standards have been passed into law in Canada.
  • The CSA retains the right to amend certain of these laws at their own discretion and without approval or review by legislative bodies.
  • For decades, the SCC regulations governing the activities of CSA mandated that any new standard, or any amendment or update to any standard, must be subjected to a full 60-day public review.
  • Given that so many CSA standards form part of public law in Canada, and given that CSA can change so many of these laws at their discretion, the SCC’s public review requirement is the only public vetting for CSA drafted legislation.
  • The CSA however, has also been allowed to run a commercial operation, selling access to legislation.  That is, CSA is the only source for public access to approximately one thousand laws in Canada.  The CSA sells this access to the public.
  • The 60-day public review requirement undercuts CSA revenues (if the law is publicly available, even briefly, there’s no need to pay money to CSA for access to it).
  • In 2015, the SCC rephrased the public review requirement.  Whereas prior to 2015, the CSA was required to post all standards for public review, save for emergencies of “health, safety or environment,” the rephrased text allows CSA to waive public review entirely for “appropriate rationale” which “may” include health, safety or environment reasons.
  • The SCC changed the location of the word “may” in the regulations, grammatically altering the meaning and thereby giving CSA the power to prevent public review of new or amended legislation.
  • On Dec. 14, 2015, we filed an ATIP request for all correspondence and related documents pertaining to the change in the SCC’s public review regulations.  Here is the text of our original submission:
  • Kindly provide for the most recent edition of the Standards Council of Canada document Requirements & Guidance - Accreditation of Standards Development Organizations, as dated 2015-10-01, all documentation including but not restricted to records, notes, corporate plans, reports, studies, briefing papers, working papers, communication of all types and in all formats, whether physical or digital, concerning or relating to; 1) the rephrasing and reorganization of article 6.6.2 - Notice of Public Review of Table 1 (formerly CAN-P-1:2012’s 6.6.2 - Notice of Public Review, and CAN-P-1F 2008’s 8.6.2 - Notice of Public Review), and; 2)  the severance of what is currently referred to as “SCC Guidance” from “SCC Requirement” in Table 1 as between the 2012 and 2015 editions.

Alright, with that background, what do you suppose the SCC was willing to release?  Well, not much.  The SCC sent a large binder of papers, mostly photocopies of already publicly available documents and paperwork showing grammatical edits.  Their release included only three emails directly relevant to the decision to change public review laws and nothing at all of relevance to the splitting of “guidance” from “requirement.” 

The SCC’s response was so limited and so heavily censored as to conclude that;  1) most of the documentation on this issue has likely been withheld, and;  2) the scale of censorship suggests that whatever the SCC is concealing is both significant and worrying to them.

What do you think?  Go ahead, take a moment and read the emails for yourself.  They’re so edited, it won’t take long.

The first SCC email is here.

The second SCC email requests internal “clarification” on public review and “some trends that we have noted and want advice on.” 

The second SCC email is here.

The third SCC email contains a table showing the specific changes to the law requested by CSA (and other, less dominant entities).  Why do you suppose they’d conceal CSA’s requests to change the law?

The third SCC email is here.

Tell us what you think using the Comment button below.  We might not respond directly, given our volume of email, but we warmly appreciate any feedback, insight or information that you feel comfortable providing.