New Legislation in Newfoundland
The new ATIPPA, 2015 has transformed the access to information landscape of Newfoundland and Labrador. Following the setbacks of Bill 29, Newfoundland and Labrador has been recognized as a leader in the world because of this new legislation.
The purpose of facilitating democracy is clearly stated in the new legislation and tools such as a public interest override (for most discretionary exceptions), returning the authority to review all records (including solicitor-client, cabinet, and some of those excluded from ATIPPA) to the Commissioner and tightened timelines for completion of both access requests and complaints are but a few examples of how this purpose is being fulfilled. Further, the Commissioner has been given a new advocacy role with an express mandate for education, compliance auditing and research.
The new Act has set a norm of disclosure and requires exceptions be applied strictly. The public interest override allows for release, even where the test for a discretionary exception is met, when the public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs the reason for the exception. Also, if the Commissioner recommends release of a record, the public body must comply with the recommendation or appeal to the Court within 10 business days for permission to disregard the recommendation. Further, if the public body fails to comply with a recommendation within 15 days, the Commissioner may have his recommendations converted into a court Order. This has the effect of essentially making the Commissioner’s order binding.
The protection of personal information has also been bolstered by mandatory Privacy Impact Assessments for all new programs (some of which must be reviewed by the Commissioner), confirmation of the Commissioner’s authority to investigate privacy breaches, mandatory breach reporting to the OIPC and the new power to convert the Commissioner’s recommendations on some privacy matters into Court orders.
The new Act attempts to eliminate costs being charged on all but the most exceptional of access requests and ensures timely and therefore meaningful access to information. The system has been made more customer-centric and more robust. Application fees have been eliminated and free search time has been increased to 15 hours. Also the activities for which a public body may charge for their time have been drastically reduced. The profile of ATIPP Coordinators has been increased (increased education, training and status) in an effort to give them more authority within the public body and to try and reduce/eliminate political interference.