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Manitoba Ombudsman releases annual report for 2003 under FIPPA and PHIA

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Feb 8, 2005

Access to information and protection of personal information privacy are fundamental rights in open, accountable, and modern democratic governments according to Ombudsman Barry Tuckett in his Annual Report to the Legislative Assembly for 2003.

"In Manitoba , there does not appear to be a culture of openness across government and other public bodies," he said. "Achieving this requires that there be a commitment from the top to the province's access and privacy laws."

A number of provincial government departments and the City of Winnipeg in general are not in compliance with statutory requirements when:

  • not providing reasons as required under the laws for denying access to information,
  • not separating information that is releasable from information that is exempt from access, and
  • using a "shotgun approach" in the application of exceptions to access rather than being very specific as the legislation requires.

In the area of protecting the privacy of personal information, the Ombudsman felt strongly that more public bodies and personal health information trustees should undertake self-assessments of their compliance with The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) and The Personal Health Information Act (PHIA).

"The risks of not protecting personal information are substantial not only for the individual whose privacy is compromised, but also for the organizations whose public trust and confidence may be significantly diminished or even lost," he said.

"In looking over the positive and negative activities we identified ten years ago in our annual report for 1994, I find it somewhat discouraging to note that there are a number of similar concerns today," said Mr. Tuckett. "This suggests to me that there is an ongoing need to refresh, revitalize, and recommit to the principles of access and privacy legislation."

To improve the administration of the Acts, the Ombudsman concluded that:

  • Public bodies and health information trustees should commit themselves to undertaking self-assessments of their compliance with the personal information protection requirements of FIPPA and PHIA and make the results of the assessments public.
  • The Manitoba Government should take steps to encourage and support holding an annual forum in the province where access and privacy issues can be raised and discussed.
  • A clear statement or declaration should be issued from the highest level of government to send a strong message that the present government expects its public servants to respect both the letter and spirit of the legislation and will hold them accountable for doing so.

The Ombudsman wrote that government must be prepared to endure rigorous scrutiny, opposition, and criticisms that come from meaningful public participation in matters of public interest when people raise questions, seek answers, and voice concerns.

"Empowering public participation in government decisions and actions not only enhances accountability, transparency, and openness, it is also a positive way of revealing good governance and disclosing where government truly serves the public interest," said Mr. Tuckett.

This will be Mr. Tuckett's last annual report under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and The Personal Health Information Act as he will be retiring on February 11, 2005 .

Created in 1970, the Office of the Manitoba Ombudsman exists to promote fairness, equity and administrative accountability through independent and impartial investigation of complaints and legislative compliance reviews.