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Manitoba worst in access to information

OTTAWA -- The Manitoba government had the worst record of any provinces when it came to disclosing information through access requests, an annual survey showed Monday.

Newspapers Canada's yearly Freedom of Information Audit found the province released just 13 per cent of the information requested in full. Virtually identical requests were made of every provincial government, the federal government and more than a dozen municipalities, to test how long it takes governments to respond and how much information they are willing to release.

Requests included cellphone records, travel receipts and records for initiatives to improve freedom-of-information responses. The audit tested how long it took governments to release the requested documents and how much they released.

The province released the requested information within the required 30-day period in 75 per cent of the requests, the fifth-best response rate among provinces. However, Manitoba was dead-last in how much information it released, providing full disclosure in just two of 16 requests made.

In last year's audit, Manitoba was one of the best, releasing information in 13 of 17 requests in full.

Provincial spokesman Matt Williamson said the nature of the questions being asked can affect the amount of information that can be disclosed. He said the province has become more open, noting in the last year the province changed the law to require ministers' expenses to be posted online.

However, Manitoba was also one of three provinces and one city government cited for being part of what the report referred to as a "disturbing trend," in which governments tried to use those online summaries as a response to requests for detailed travel expenses.

The problem, according to the report, is online summaries do not contain specific information including what was purchased or how much was spent on particular items.

If only summaries were released, former international co-operation minister Bev Oda's $16 orange juice and $667-per-night London hotel room would never have come to light. Because the receipts were released in an access request, Oda ultimately had to pay back certain amounts.

The City of Winnipeg released 80 per cent of the 10 requests made to it within 30 days, earning a B grade for the length of time it took to release records. The city, however, earned a D for how much information was released and had the third-lowest rate among municipalities for how much was released.

Winnipeg also has the distinction of having two of the three biggest fee assessments for requests. The city imposed a $7,140 fee on a request for documents about payments the city issued for goods and services, and $2,821 for a request of records about police use of Tasers.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 25, 2012 A5

History

Updated on Tuesday, September 25, 2012 at 11:35 AM CDT: Adds fact box.

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