Prince Edward Island government offices in the Shaw Building, Rochford Street, Charlottetown.
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A P.E.I. man denied access to the provincial executive council office last week says he believes he was blocked due to concerns he has raised with the privacy commissioner over how the premier’s office is handling some of his Freedom of Information requests.
On Thursday, July 10, Dan Aiken tried to gain entry to the executive council office, which is situated on the fifth floor of the Shaw Building in Charlottetown, adjacent to the premier’s office.
He was there to file a request for documents under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Act. But Aiken says the security guard would not allow him past the main lobby security desk.
The guard called up to the premier’s office to inform them of Aiken’s wish to access the fifth floor, but was told by an administrative assistant he was not to be permitted entry “for security reasons.”
“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” said Aiken, who has filed a number of FOIPP requests in person at this office over the last year without incident.
“It was bizarre because they had never done anything like that before.”
A staffer was sent downstairs to process his information request, but Aiken says he is upset about the way he was treated. He said he finds the timing of this treatment especially curious, as he had recently filed a complaint with P.E.I.’s privacy commissioner over the way some of his recent FOIPP requests involving the premier’s office expenses have been treated.
He has been filing a number of requests for the premier’s expenses and the expenses of his staffers for a trade mission to Egypt in January 2013.
But he has noted his requests to the premier’s office have consistently been forwarded instead to the province’s executive council office. He feels this is a violation of the legislation that dictates how the premier’s office, and indeed all public bodies, should handle information requests from the public.
“I feel the premier’s office has systematically tried to remove themselves from the freedom of information process,” Aiken said.
“And I believe that’s an effort to gain more secrecy for what’s going on in the premier’s office and I believe they are trying to remove themselves from public accountability.”
He forwarded these concerns to the province’s privacy commissioner two weeks ago.
The following week, he could no longer gain access to the executive council office.
“I’m not sure if there’s a connection there, but it does seem a little suspicious to me that you could have a complaint that the premier’s office is trying to keep people away, they don’t want to be involved in the freedom of information process and then the next time you show up, they don’t even want you in the building,” Aiken said.
The premier’s office did release a number of files to Aiken as a result of his original FOIPP request, detailing the travel, food, lodging and cellphone expenses charged to P.E.I. taxpayers by premier’s office staffers and executive council staff during the Egypt trade mission, which included stops in Turkey and London.
Aiken, who is an active member of the Progressive Conservative party, says his concern is not with the information he has received, but rather with the process by which the premier’s office is handling these requests.
And he’s not happy with how he is personally being treated now that he has raised these concerns.
“To have someone in Premier Ghiz’s own office say that it’s a security concern to have members of the public filing freedom of information requests is simply appalling and undemocratic.”
A spokesperson for the premier’s office would only say the Provincial Administration Building complex in Charlottetown has had additional security measures in place for more than a year.
He also noted members of the public can file Freedom of Information requests by mail.