As a general rule of thumb, there are some lines that the P.E.I. government should never cross, except at its own peril. One is criticizing a report or recommendations from the provincial auditor general. Another is ignoring the advice of the conflict of interest commissioner. A third, certainly, is questioning a decision by the information and privacy commissioner.
These positions are essential to keep governments honest and with ensuring that taxpayers’ money and interests are protected. They help to keep governments accountable and transparent.
Therefore, it’s almost unbelievable to learn the province has launched a court review against privacy commissioner Karen Rose. The legal challenge suggests she “erred in law” when she found government breached the privacy of Islanders in two cases.
Just last month, Health P.E.I. was quick to reveal that an employee improperly viewed the private health records of 353 Islanders. The employee was dismissed and the Islanders affected were notified. Government deserves credit for its prompt action when the breach was finally uncovered.
But it deserves a rap across the knuckles for its decision to challenge the orders of the privacy commissioner.
It seems like a petty reaction to reasonable decisions by Ms. Rose. She has a job to do and government is well advised to back off. Besides the terrible optics, government seems on shaky ground in both cases. To go into the public domain to challenge her rulings not only undermines the credibility of the commissioner but the office of the commissioner.
The complaint by government seems contradictory when it argues that Ms. Rose did not properly consider the province’s duty to preserve public records under the Archives and Records Act. It was government that had flaunted the act five years ago when it failed to preserve emails and other records associated with the e-gaming initiative. The act was only strengthened this year.
One of the orders being challenged deals with a 2010 report accusing three elected trustees on the former Eastern School District board of causing conflicts. The report naming the trustees was tabled in the legislature – ensuring the women’s privacy was publicly breached.
Ms. Rose ruled that the women be allowed to prepare a statement of defence and have their side of the story included in the report. It seems fair and reasonable.
The second order involves an individual who was having trouble getting his credentials recognized. Government collected information about him from a community organization; the man complained and the commissioner agreed with him. Government had no business snooping into his background and the organization had no business providing that information.
Government argues that the legal challenge is not an attempt to fight the privacy commissioner’s orders. Really? Why wasn't this issue resolved directly with the commissioner instead of trying to bully her and challenge her authority by going through a formal judicial review?
Government should accept the two rulings and move forward. It suggests that it is only seeking clarity, but looks like it wants to pick a fight instead.