Nova Scotia Launches Overhaul of Freedom Information Laws Amid Public Scrutiny

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A comprehensive review of Nova Scotia’s freedom of information legislation has been announced by the provincial government, following years of critique surrounding obscured government documents and a seemingly ineffectual review procedure. The government has faced increasing public scrutiny over these issues, spurring an internal committee towards an in-depth examination of the existing law, simultaneously protective of personal privacy.

Headed by the director of policy of the Justice Department, the committee is looking to cultivate options to bring the legislation up to contemporary standards. These proposals will be presented to Justice Minister Brad Johns, who will then steer public debate. The public has been granted the opportunity to voice their perspectives and submissions until November 30.

The state of the current legislation became a topic of contention in 2017, when the privacy commissioner of the province noted regular rejection by provincial bodies of her office’s requests to expose documents. Catherine Tully, during her tenure, depicted a bleak picture of applicants enduring years of wait time for the review of held-off information requests, eventually forced into high-priced court appeals.

Tully, along with her successor Tricia Ralph, had suggested enhancing her office with order-making authority and mandating appeal of her decisions by governments before the courts, as opposed to outright refusal. However, both the preceding Liberal and the current Progressive conservative governments are yet to enact the recommended reforms.

The previous year’s report by Ralph shed light on a concerning trend – only 48% of recommendations by her office were accepted by public authorities in the fiscal year 2022-23, a steep fall from 74% in the preceding fiscal. Labeling the downward trajectory as “unfortunate”, she underscored the need for systemic changes.

Tasked with the twin duty to revisit the Privacy Review Officer Act and the Personal Information International Disclosure Protection Act, the internal committee is likely to present its strategic options for their modernization to Minister Johns. At its core, this review promises the potential for an overdue overhaul of the system, injecting new life and effectiveness into the province’s information management and privacy protection legislation.

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