Over the past few weeks, I’ve been posting several of the more notable submissions to the Broadcast and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel submissions that were previously not released to the public. These included Bell, Shaw, Cogeco, Quebecor, CWTA, and a Rogers submission that was released months after the submission deadline. The Access to Information office at Minister Navdeep Bains’ ISED has now completed the request and says it cannot disclose submissions from Corus and SaskTel. Both companies are apparently taking the position that they can withhold disclosure of their submissions on competitive grounds, citing Section 20(1)(c) of the Act:
Subject to this section, the head of a government institution shall refuse to disclose any record requested under this Act that contains …
(c) information the disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to result in material financial loss or gain to, or could reasonably be expected to prejudice the competitive position of, a third party; or
The notion that a company can stop public disclosure of submissions to a public process by claiming prejudice to a competitive position raises serious transparency concerns about public processes. As I told the ATIP officer, withholding an entire document – even including materials that are presumably introductory in nature and surely inconsequential to a competitive position – creates a level of secrecy that runs directly counter to the very goals of open government. While the submissions will be made publicly available within a matter of weeks, the process associated with BTLR secrecy ultimately reflects poorly on the panel itself which unnecessarily adopted a secretive approach, Corus, SaskTel, and the government.