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Classified nonsense

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On June 12, I made a request from the federal government for documents from the Prime Minister’s Office related to the Devils Lake Outlet issue, including briefing notes and correspondence between the PMO and Washington on the issue.

Usually an Access to Information request is supposed to take 30 days. But I was warned it would take longer. It ended up taking the Privy Council Office 148 days to send me a package of 21 documents. No wait, it should have contained 21 pages but the first five pages were held back because they are confidential.

One might think that means there is actually information on the remaining pages. One would be wrong.

Every single page has almost every piece of information blacked out except for the date and time of meetings which occurred two years ago, and headings telling me what would be contained in the blacked out parts if I could read them.

Among the information which apparently is too secret to let Canadians in on is the proposed agenda of items for discussion at a meeting between Harper and President George W. Bush in Washington in June 2006, and items for discussion at a meeting between Harper, Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox in March 2006.

These aren’t the actual agendas mind you. They are just the proposed agenda items for Harper’s review.

What is so classified about subjects Harper and Bush could have talked about at meetings we know took place more than two years ago?

Ironically each page is stamped with the following note:

"Notwithstanding any security markings appearing on this record, the information contained herein is no longer classified."

Basically it took the federal government 148 days to find 21 pages of briefing notes which contained a reference to Devils’ Lake, photocopy the pages, black out all the text, and then forward them to me so they could claim the access request was complete.

Yes, open and transparent government indeed.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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