Sunday, February 17, 2013

Part 1: Elections Canada refuses to explain Access to Information findings

A disturbing number of questions are arising from my Access to Information findings released last week, but Elections Canada is refusing to answer any of them.

The Access to Information response reveals several suspicious transactions taking place under Elections Canada's "robocalls" investigation, which has cost Canadians $780,000 to-date.

For instance:

1. Why did the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission bill almost $58,800?  What business do they have in researching supposed phone calls made during an election?

2. Why did 7147660 Canada Inc – owned by Tom Ritchie – have its contract increased by almost $30,000?

3. Why was an additional $56,217.50 awarded to Ritchie for October 1 to March 31, 2013 on a sole-source basis, that is, with no competition whatsoever?

4. How did Elections Canada advertise for, screen, select, and hire these investigators, especially considering most of them seem to be paper companies with no websites, email address, or phone numbers?  What steps were taken to ensure these investigators were non-partisan, neutral individuals?

5. What justification was given for the Commissioner’s Office to outsource one of its primary responsibilities (investigation and enforcement) to private contractors?  Why could this investigation not be handled in house?

6. What are the qualifications of the individuals working the investigation?  Are these analysts, investigators, consultants?  Do they have a technology background?  An auditing background?  Former detective?

7. Why are most contracts in the odd amount of $78,444.35?

8. Does Elections Canada intend to extend these contracts past their current March 31, 2013 end date?  Or will the investigation be completed by then?

These are all important questions which could and should be covered under the existing Access to Information request.  It was, after all, through my original request that I've uncovered this information.

But apparently not, according to Elections Canada.  Clarifying the ATI request is not the job of the ATI department, says the ATI department – it’s the job of the Media Relations department.

So I went to the Media Relations department who, not surprisingly, said they could not respond on the specific details of an ATI request - that was the job of the ATI department!

Media Relations did, however, send me this helpful webpage for "background information" on how Elections Canada works... it's the Commissioner's "About Us" page.

The run around led back to the ATI department, which said they would not further research or explain my ATI request; the information I was given was all they would give on that specific request.  If I wanted an explanation, I'd have to file another request, costing another $5.00 and three months of waiting.

The purpose of Access to Information legislation is to, well, have access to information!  But what good is that information if it can't be put in context or explained or defended - something it seems most departments should be eager to do in order to avoid misconceptions or misinterpretations of that information.

That is clearly not the case at Elections Canada.

Never before have I made this request, but if this is the game Elections Canada wants to play, then sobeit.  We're on the brink of something huge here and they're purposely dragging their feet.  The only way this investigation - the true investigation - can continue is with the money to make repeated ATI requests.

It's only $5.00, but it will add up quickly.

Furthermore, Elections Canada reserves the right to a) ask for more money if there are lots of documents on a request or; b) separate one ATI request into several separate requests, each costing money and taking more time to research and respond to.

There are two ways you can help:

1. Make a donation here to keep this investigation going:

2. Submit your own ATI request, pay the $5.00, and let me know your findings.