The Information Commissioner has filed a lawsuit to end a nine-year search for Access To Information records held by a federal agency. The dispute over disclosure – the longest to date – targets the St. John’s Port Authority.
“I’d like to see an investigation into the whole works,” said Charles Anonsen, owner of Adventure Tours Inc. of St. John’s. “This has been a long battle, and a very expensive battle, but I’ve pursued it.”
The Commissioner in a Federal Court application filed on Anonsen’s behalf asks that the Authority be compelled to release 33 pages of records sought since 2008. Correspondence between the Commissioner and the Authority continued from 2009 to last May 12, according to the Court documents.
Sean Hanrahan, CEO of the Port Authority, in a May 12 email cited in Court records complained of “delay, discourtesy and general incompetence on the part of the Office of the Information Commissioner over nearly a decade.” The Commissioner’s office declined comment.
Anonsen’s Adventure Tours operated tour boats from St. John’s harbour from 1978. The Authority in 2006 denied the company a license, prompting five years of litigation.
“I started my business years ago and now I’m not allowed to operate,” said Anonsen. “They changed the rules to get rid of me, then the Port went ahead and gave a market I developed over 35 years to a new guy who just pulled into the harbour.”
Anonsen in an October 1, 2008 Access To Information request wrote the Authority seeking “information from all meetings of the board of directors, management and staff of the St. John’s Port Authority regarding me, Charles Anonsen, and Adventure Tours Inc. This would include emails, minutes of meetings, letters, recordings, audio and video, and legal opinions. Further, I am requesting copies of commercial leases and contacts with other Port users and operators to examine the lease history of the St. John’s Port authority.”
The Authority replied within six months “disclosing some records” but withheld 132 pages of files, according to Court documents. Other files were released piecemeal with some 33 crucial pages of records still withheld.
Anonsen said he sought details of Authority minutes in which directors voted to deny his license. “It’s unfair,” he said. “They say I can’t operate because I spoke out against them.”
Delays of two to three years in releasing federal records are now commonplace. Agencies would gain new powers to conceal records under legislation introduced in the Commons on June 19.
Bill C-58 An Act To Amend The Access Information Act proposes two new grounds to refuse requests, as “vexatious” or involving “such a large number of records” it would be too onerous for staff.
By Jason Unrau