Nunavut gov't. holding back more information than it should, says watchdog

·3 min read
Graham Steele became Nunavut's information and privacy commissioner in January 2021. The former Nova Scotia politician, author and academic says the government of Nunavut is holding back more information than it needs to and not protecting Nunavummiut’s personal information as well as it could. (CBC - image credit)
Graham Steele became Nunavut's information and privacy commissioner in January 2021. The former Nova Scotia politician, author and academic says the government of Nunavut is holding back more information than it needs to and not protecting Nunavummiut’s personal information as well as it could. (CBC - image credit)

The access to information system in Nunavut isn't "working as well as it should," said the territory's recently-appointed information and privacy commissioner.

In his first annual report submitted to the Nunavut Legislature, Graham Steele said the territorial government is holding back more information than it needs to and not protecting Nunavummiut's personal information as well as it could.

"The information law says the government has to tell its citizens what it's doing," said Steele, who started his new appointment in January 2021. He is a lawyer, author, a former Nova Scotia politician and an academic who served as that province's minister of finance from 2009 to 2012.

He said the law provides exceptions to disclosing information such as advice to a cabinet minister or from a lawyer, but even in those cases, the government has a duty to at least think about releasing the information even if they can hold it back.

"[This government] almost never seems to do that," Steele said.

He said the government could easily release more information about what it's doing on a routine basis.

"More information is better," Steele said. "The whole idea behind access to information law is that governments are more honest and will make better decisions if citizens know what they're doing."

2019 cyber attack

Steele said the government took too long to tell Nunavummiut about the 2019 cyber attack that shut down the government's entire network for several days.

The attackers demanded money but the government refused, opting instead to rebuild its network.

Steele said that while the government did a good job rebuilding the system, he pointed out the government didn't provide a full account of what happened in the legislature until this past June, after he had pressed it to do so.

"I'm still working on [the cyber attack] to figure out what information was lost," he added.

He said these types of attacks are becoming more common. He cited one that took place on a computer system that had information about students in schools across the territory.

"We're going to be seeing these attacks more and more and more, and we have to make sure that the information of Nunavummiut is properly protected," he said.

Privacy concerns

Steele said he also has concerns about how the government handles Nunavummiut's personal information.

He said citizens provide the government with a lot of personal information, and it is the government's responsibility to take care of that information and make sure that the only people who see it are the ones who should.

One example he cited was personal health information.

Steele said that while the health department does a good job overall, he sees a number of cases where someone's health information is seen by somebody that shouldn't have access to the private file.

"This happens in the hamlets and the community health centres where maybe a file goes missing or there's somebody who looks at a neighbour's, you know, medical information that they shouldn't look at," he said.

He said it's important that staff are well trained "in a culture of confidentiality," and that the government keeps reinforcing with its staff the importance of keeping the information confidential.

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