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Air security agency had "no lawful authority" to delay releasing audit report

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:20 p.m. November 3, 2005]

OTTAWA  — Canada's Information Commissioner says the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority failed to comply with the federal Access to Information Act in releasing to PoliticsWatch a copy of an auditor's report. 

It took nearly six months for the agency to respond to a PoliticsWatch request received October 27, 2004, for a copy of an auditor's report on the 2003 Request For Proposal process for pre-board screening services for the Pacific region and other documents relating to the bids. 

"In my view CATSA had no lawful authority for failing to respond by January 1, 2005, and I will so inform CATSA," wrote Information Commissioner John Reid, in a letter received by PoliticsWatch this week. 

CATSA received PoliticsWatch's request on October 27 of last year. Under the Act, the agency has 30 days to provide material requested, making the original deadline November 26. 

On November 22, the request was modified and a new due date of December 22 was set. On December 14, eight days before PoliticsWatch was to receive the material, CATSA claimed an extension of 30 days, pushing the date back to January 21, 2005. 

"As you know, CATSA did not respond by the due date, thereby placing itself in a deemed-refusal situation," Reid said in his letter. 

On March 7, more than a month after the due date, PoliticsWatch filed a complaint with Reid's office. 

According to Reid, the agency "claims that they did not have an adequate number of resources to respond to your requests."

Nonetheless, Reid still found the agency had no lawful authority for the delay. 

Earlier this year the Canadian Newspaper Association conducted an independent audit of access to information in several provinces and the federal government. It found that six out of eight requests of federal departments "failed to respond within the statutory period of compliance." 

In a September speech in Ottawa, Anne Kothawala, president of the Canadian Newspaper Association, described delays in ATIP requests as "particularly injurious to the media."

"Delay kills stories, and as it does, it kills transparency and accountability," Kothawala said. "More importantly delay erodes the confidence of media in government and in laws designed to ensure openness."

In his latest report to Parliament, Reid said ATIP delays increased last year to 21 per cent of his office's workload from 14.5 per cent the previous year. 

While Reid says the overall trend is an improvement from when he started in his position in 1998, last year's statistics show that "backsliding is evident" on delays. 

CATSA was the subject of a front-page Ottawa Citizen story on Thursday morning after the paper discovered its president, Jacques Duchesneau, is simultaneously sitting on the board of a venture capital company and holding his CEO job at the agency. 

A CATSA spokesperson told the Citizen Duchesneau's other duties "do not present a conflict nor does his involvement impinge on his obligations" at CATSA. 

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