Notable Canadian News Stories Based on ATIA requests

19 March 2010

By Stanley Tromp

The value of a strong Access to Information Act is better demonstrated than just asserted. To counter negative claims made by bureaucrats and politicians about FOI law usage, here are summaries of Canadian news story on issues as diverse as health, safety, government financial waste, public security, and environmental risks. They all share two common features: all reveal issues vital to the public interest (i.e., not merely topics the public ‘might find interesting’), and all were made possible through ATIA requests. They were published in just 2007-2008, and one could have cited hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such ATIA related stories dating back to 1983.

The examples cited here can serve as an antidote against despondency or cynicism regarding the weak ATIA system, for they show how journalists can sometimes overcome the barriers of bureaucratic and political resistance to produce valuable results. While these are impressive enough, imagine how much more could yet be achieved with an ATIA reformed up to global FOI standards, and the potential loss of such stories if the ATIA system erodes still further. If the question is posed, ‘Why should we care if we have good FOI laws?’- the answer is suggested below.

Jump to: Health and Safety | Environment | Law and Order/National Security | Govt Accountability | Public Money

Health and Safety

The Canadian government strongly opposed tougher U.S. rules to prevent listeria and lobbied the United States to accept Canada’s more lenient standards, internal documents released through the ATIA reveal. Briefing notes prepared by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for an April 7, 2006, meeting with the board of directors of the Canadian Meat Council outline how both industry and the Canadian government were frustrated with the increased precautions the United States was demanding.

Specifically, Canada opposed daily inspection visits and the testing of finished products for Listeria monocytogenes (a bacterium that has led to the deaths of several Canadians this year). Further, the documents show the CFIA agreed to the meat packing and processing industry’s request to end a 20-year-old practice of having inspectors issue reports and rankings on facilities. The Canadian Meat Council complained the reports were ending up in the hands of reporters through the ATIA, leading to bad coverage.

– From Ottawa wanted U.S. to accept more lenient meat inspection regime, by Bill Curry, The Globe and Mail. Aug. 29, 2008

The Stephen Harper government was urged when it took office in 2006 by its own experts to embrace new targets to protect children from environmental threats, says a document obtained through the Access to Information Act (ATIA).

‘While many of the tools may be in place to manage risks to child health, the federal government lacks a coherent and coordinated approach needed to address gaps in our information base,’ said a briefing note of May 2006. For example, one official said a suspected carcinogen banned in pesticides is still available in some bottles of shampoo used to treat lice, and the shampoo is mostly used by children.

– From Tories ignored own advice to do more to protect children’s health; In 2006, experts warned government it lacked coherent plan to reduce environmental risks to kids, by Mike De Souza. The Vancouver Sun, March 24, 2008

Canadian border guards may lack the necessary training to keep dangerous goods out of Canada that may be carrying mad cow, foot-and-mouth disease, and even avian flu, leading to potential outbreaks that could damage the country’s tourism and agricultural industries. An internal risk assessment conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, obtained through the ATIA, also warns that border officials are too busy to properly screen international travellers entering the country for food, animal and plant materials that could contain pathogens that may infect Canada’s animal population.

– From Poor training raises outbreak risk, agency says, by Carly Weeks. The Globe and Mail, Sept. 1, 2008

Just before the start of 2007’s scares over hazardous consumer products from China, Health Canada received a devastating analysis. A report it had commissioned from outside consultants warned that the country’s main consumer-protection law, the 1969 Hazardous Products Act, was seriously outdated and woefully inadequate to safeguard the public from perils in everyday products. The report was obtained through the ATIA by Ottawa-based researcher Ken Rubin.

– From Consumer-protection law defective, study finds; Warnings Canadians do get about hazardous products often come from the U.S., which imposes stringent regulatory safeguards, by Martin Mittelstaedt. The Globe and Mail, April 2, 2008

Ottawa’s policing of the shellfish industry is so fraught with problems that the health of consumers is being put at risk, says a report released through the ATIA. ’Inconsistent implementation is posing a potential risk to the health and safety of Canadians,’ says an independent study of July 2007 ordered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. The report warns that the federal program overseeing the shellfish industry is stretched to the limit, with not enough inspectors, research or money to guard properly against deadly toxins.

– From Report warns of tainted shellfish; Health risk possible because industry lacks policing, report says, by Dean Beeby, The Canadian Press. The Toronto Star, February 18, 2008

Canada’s nuclear regulator is changing the way it tracks lost, stolen and missing nuclear devices following an inquiry about inconsistent reporting from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Internal emails disclosed under the ATIA show the Vienna-based agency contacted officials in Ottawa after a Canadian Press investigation raised serious questions in July about how closely the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission monitors devices that could be used in a crude ‘dirty bomb.’ Commission records revealed that dozens of radioactive tools – from an industrial gauge in Red Deer, Alta., to a device used for molecular separation in Montreal – had gone missing in the last five years.

– From Nuclear body to boost tracking of devices; Dozens of radioactive tools have gone missing, by Jim Bronskill and Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press. The Toronto Star, January 7, 2008

Abandoned explosives from bygone military training exercises could be scattered across more than two dozen native reserves in Canada, says a document released under the ATIA. A Defence Department list cites 25 reserves potentially laden with discarded explosives, ranging from Second World War-era bombs to anti-tank mortars and even torpedoes.
– From Abandoned military bombs found on dozen of reserves, by Steve Rennie. Kamloops Daily News, B.C., November 26, 2007

The Environment

The Harper government was warned by its own environmental scientific experts that Canada would have to join an aggressive international campaign to fight global warming to avoid ‘substantial global and Canadian impacts’ or risk irreversible damage to the planet, revealed memorandums obtained under the ATIA.

Prime Minister Harper recognized the threat of climate change at the meeting, but his government has never taken a stance on these warnings that allowing average temperatures to rise over a sustained period by two degrees could drastically affect the world. Although the Tory government has told the international community in negotiations that global emissions should be cut in half by 2050, the documents warn that even an 80 per cent cut might not be enough to avoid crossing a dangerous threshold.

– From Tories warned on climate; Damage to planet cited by expert, by Mike De Souza. Canwest News Service, Windsor Star. March 31, 2008

A ‘made-in-Canada’ approach to target industrial greenhouse-gas emissions, fight climate change and spur new technology was ready for launch in 2006, federal documents released under the ATIA have revealed.
A memo from the top-ranking Environment Canada official, sent to cabinet, explained that a new climate change agency created by the previous Liberal government had ‘the potential to bring about significant, cost-effective transformational change in Canadian society,’ driving a new market system that would encourage such technologies as carbon capture and storage. The Tory government killed the agency after the end of its first year in office in 2007.

– From Tories spiked ‘made in Canada’ green plan; Harper killed agency created by Liberals early in his mandate, by Mike De Souza. The Gazette. Montreal, March 11, 2008

The Harper government has been warned that the ecological ‘footprint’ of the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline on an Arctic bird sanctuary that protects migratory birds and at-risk species such as polar bears could exceed the threshold deemed acceptable by Environment Canada, documents released under the ATIA reveal.

– From Pipeline ‘footprint’ sparks eco concerns; Scientists fear affect on at-risk Arctic species, by Andrew Mayeda. Calgary Herald, Aug. 19, 2008

Canada’s stores of fresh water are not as plentiful as once thought, and water shortages threaten to pinch the economy and pit provinces against each other, says a document released under the ATIA. An internal report drafted last December by Environment Canada warns that climate change and a growing population will further drain resources. It suggests the federal government take a more hands-on role in managing the country’s water, which is now largely done by the provinces.

– From Beware water shortages, report warns Ottawa, by Steve Rennie. Daily Bulletin.Kimberley, B.C., Aug. 21, 2008

The federal government is rejecting calls to take over the regulation of uranium exploration despite mounting public concerns about the search for the radioactive metal, according to a ministerial briefing memo obtained through the ATIA. Some junior companies are now drilling for uranium in less remote areas, prompting protests from nearby residents and native groups who have called for a moratorium on uranium exploration because of environmental concerns.

– From Ottawa rejects call to guide uranium drilling, by Andy Hoffman. The Globe and Mail, July 29, 2008

Canada’s nuclear safety watchdog appears to be too cozy with the industry it’s supposed to monitor, suggests an independent report obtained under the ATIA. The study ordered by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission cites long-standing complaints that the regulator focuses far more on the companies it licenses than on concerned lobby groups or citizens.The commission ‘has in the past put more focus on communicating with licensees than with non-government organizations and the broader public,’ says the report by the Institute on Governance.

– From Nuclear watchdog too close to industry, report suggests, by Sue Bailey and Jim Bronskill. The Globe and Mail, October 9, 2007

The Conservative government announced that Canada is joining an international nuclear club that’s drawn fierce criticism from environmentalists. The unexpected public declaration follows months of stone-walling and denials by government ministers and departmental officials, who refused to comment on Canada’s assessment of the U.S.- led Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. And it could spell the end of Canada’s heavily government-subsidized, decades-old relationship with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Internal government documents obtained under the ATIA suggest that AECL’s CANDU technology was shut out of initial GNEP discussions.

– From Canada to join international nuclear group despite concern about waste disposal, by Bruce Cheadle. Whitehorse Star, Yukon, November 30, 2007

Canada’s nuclear safety watchdog rejected a preliminary report into last year’s reactor shutdown that sparked a critical shortage of medical isotopes. In the wake of the medical isotope controversy, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. was supposed to explain why key safety measures were not in place at its research reactor in Chalk River, Ont. But the federal Crown corporation’s January report instead focused on the communications breakdown between AECL and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, say documents obtained under the ATIA.

– From Watchdog rejected AECL report into isotope controversy: documents, by Steve Rennie. Telegraph-Journal. Saint John, N.B., July 22, 2008

Environment Minister John Baird was urged to elaborate a national strategy to protect Canada’s freshwater resources immediately after he took over his portfolio in January 2007. Briefing notes, prepared for Baird following the federal cabinet shuffle that brought him over to Environment Canada, highlighted a lack of coordination of policies to ensure clean, safe and secure water for the country’s people and ecosystems. The documents, released under the ATIA, also say that a federal interdepartmental water committee is no longer active.

– From Baird urged to develop water strategy in 2007; Briefing notes highlighted need for coordination of policies, by Mike De Souza and Jack Aubry. The Gazette. Montreal, April 14, 2008

Law and Order, National Security

More than half of all RCMP in-custody deaths during the past five years occurred in B.C. despite the fact only a third of the force’s officers work here, an internal report prepared by the Mounties has found. The report, obtained through the ATIA, provides a detailed analysis of all 80 RCMP in- custody deaths between 2002 and 2006, including police shootings.

– From B.C. Mounties have most deaths on their watch; Internal Report, by Chad Skelton. National Post, February 16, 2008

A tangle of conflicting laws on both sides of the border is tying the hands of joint Canada-U.S. border squads, undermining efforts to nab international criminals, says a report released under the ATIA.

Team members can’t radio one another. They have to surrender their sidearms when crossing into the other country. And they’re forbidden from crossing the Canada-U.S. border except at official stations, even though criminals prefer the isolated points in between. The censored internal report, prepared by the public works department, examines the first five years of the Integrated Border Enforcement Teams, which expanded nationally in April 2002.

– From Border teams handcuffed, report says; Canadian, U.S. officers can’t even talk by radio, by Dean Beeby, Canadian Press. Toronto Star. February 11, 2008

Screening officers at Canada’s airports who ask passengers to empty their pockets have been given a stern warning: Stop emptying your own pockets into the X-ray machines. Maintenance technicians have found a heap of garbage inside the expensive machines, which are used to scan hand luggage, purses, jackets and other items for potential weapons.

The junk they’ve extracted includes candy wrappers, coins, paper clips, metal keys, hair clips – even utility knife blades, the very type of weapon the X-ray units are supposed to detect. ‘Likewise, warning labels and hazard warning signs are being damaged and are sometimes completely removed from the units,’ stated records released through the ATIA

– From Airport guards fouling x-rays; Warned not to toss trash into expensive machines, by Dean Beeby. The Toronto Sun, June 8, 2008

Canada’s financial intelligence agency warns that criminals may be exploiting Internet-based companies that convert cash into electronic gold, exposing a new front in the international effort to restrict terrorist financing and money laundering. While other channels of money laundering are successfully being shut down, authorities are increasingly worried about a proliferation of ‘digital precious metals operators’ websites that offer clients a chance to conduct Internet business in units backed by gold and silver rather than paper currencies, according to records obtained under the ATIA.

– From Ottawa warns on gold-backed Web trades; FINTRAC sees potential abuse of electronic transactions tied to gold and silver, by Kevin Carmichael. The Globe and Mail, May 26, 2008

So-called white-label ATMs can be used to launder money with ease, leaving authorities struggling to track the dirty cash, says a federal watchdog agency. The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (Fintrac) outlines a money-laundering scheme in a draft report obtained under the ATIA.

– From ATMs used to launder money. Winnipeg Free Press, Manitoba, December 18, 2007

The diamond industry in Canada’s Far North is vulnerable to smugglers looking to import ‘blood diamonds’ or launder the proceeds of organized crime syndicates and terrorist organizations. “Diamonds have been, and continue to be, a main source of currency for both terrorist organizations and organized crime,’ states a briefing note prepared by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, obtained under the ATIA. ‘Conflict/blood diamonds are used to fund rebel operations, purchase arms and other illicit activities (drugs). They are portable, high value and cannot be detected by any type of screening method.’

– From ‘Blood diamond’ smuggling worries Ottawa; N.W.T. diamond boom has federal government concerned about crime, by Andrew Mayeda. Edmonton Journal, Sept. 7, 2008

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before gangsters adopted the device of choice among corporate workaholics: the BlackBerry. It has become so popular among B.C. gang members that an internal RCMP ‘threat assessment’ on organized crime – obtained by CanWest News Service through the ATIA – devotes an entire section to the device. It poses a big challenge for law enforcement, because encryption and security features make the devices much harder to wiretap than land lines or cellphones.

– From BlackBerrys ripe for organized crime; Security features makes devices popular with gangs, by Chad Skelton. Vancouver Sun, October 8, 2007

A Canadian passport is essentially a ‘get out of jail free card’ for people having sex with children overseas, says a law professor. ‘Canada has one of the worst records in the world on enforcing these laws,’ he said. ‘Are we going to back up our tough talk on child sexual exploitation with action?’

Prof. Benjamin Perrin, who teaches at the University of British Columbia, reviewed data obtained through the ATIA from the Department of Justice on sexual exploitation charges overseas. He found that 146 Canadians were charged with child sex offences overseas from 1993-2007, based on requests for consular support. However, only one Canadian has been convicted here under laws against child-sex tourism.

– From Sex tourism thriving; Since 1993, nearly 150 Canadians have been charged with sex crimes, by David Wylie. Harbour City Star. Nanaimo, B.C., April 9, 2008

According to internal documents obtained by Maclean’s under the ATIA, the sex offender registry is crippled by one major problem: Ottawa’s obsession with privacy. The federal government is so determined to protect the rights of convicted sex offenders that most police officers are not allowed to access the system. ‘I’m not sure that public access is the answer, but I’m bloody sure this isn’t the answer,’ says Paul Gillespie, former head of the Toronto police child exploitation unit. ‘This is a national embarrassment.’

– From ‘A National Embarrassment’: Canada’s sex offender registry is so flawed that hundreds of molesters and other criminals have gone missing, by Michael Friscolanti. Maclean’s magazine, January 14, 2008

Terrorists plotted to blow up Canada-bound passenger planes over the mid-Atlantic in 2006, according to allegations that surfaced in a British courtroom in April 2008 at the start of what police are calling the world’s biggest terrorism trial. Documents released under the ATIA show that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was briefed about the plot within hours of the arrests. A Memorandum for the Prime Minister dated Aug. 10 says Britain had ‘disrupted a major terrorist plot.’

It says the RCMP was cooperating with police in the United Kingdom, and Canadian officials had stepped up airport and border security. But neither the memo, nor a second sent to the Prime Minister on Aug. 31, mention that Canadian flights were targeted – although parts of the documents were blacked out prior to being released to the National Post.

– From Canada Named in Plot; Terrorists planned to bomb flights in 2006, by Stewart Bell. National Post, April 3, 2008

Countering the threat of terrorist radicalization at home is now the chief preoccupation of Canada’s spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. A study from CSIS found a ‘very rapid process’ is transforming some youths from angry activists into jihadist terrorists intent on killing for their religion. The study, obtained under the ATIA, says a few have embraced terrorism with frightening speed after becoming enraged over what they perceive as a western ‘war on Islam’ and being coaxed by extremist preachers.

– From CSIS focuses on homegrown terrorism threat; Spy agency studies issue of ‘radicalization’ of Canadian citizens, by Ian Macleod. The Ottawa Citizen, March 14, 2008

Canada’s marine security regulations are riddled with gaps that put the country at risk, says a federal bureaucrat in a report, obtained under the ATIA. Transport Canada hastily drafted marine security regulations, largely copied from U.S. rules, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, writes an award-winning civil servant and former naval officer: ‘It is the opinion of the author that this represents a significant risk to the health and economic security of Canadians by perpetuating vulnerabilities in the marine transportation sector.’

– From Gaps in marine security found, by Steve Rennie, Canadian Press. The Toronto Sun, January 24, 2008

Canada’s spy agency is warily eyeing the possibility of violent protests against the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia. The annual report of Canadian Security Intelligence Service director Jim Judd signals that the agency is actively gauging the prospect that demonstrations could turn ugly as opponents voice social and economic concerns about the Vancouver Games.

The heavily censored 27-page CSIS report – obtained under the ATIA – notes ‘the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics may lead to protests with the potential for violence.’ The passage is part of a section of the report dealing with the activities of CSIS’s Asia, Europe and Americas Branch, noting that in the Americas the service’s ‘domestic and secessionist investigations’ include, among other concerns, white supremacists and Sikh and Tamil extremists – all long-standing interests of CSIS.

– From CSIS monitoring risk of violence at Olympics, by Jim Bronskill. The Globe and Mail, January 21, 2008

Three out of four suspects stun-gunned by the RCMP were unarmed, according to a review of 563 cases that shows Tasers are often used for compliance rather than to defuse major threats. An analysis by The Canadian Press of Taser incidents reported by the Mounties reveals that more than 79 per cent of those zapped were not brandishing a weapon. Statistics were released through the ATIA.

In slightly more than one-fifth of cases, the suspect had a knife, bottle, club or other weapon. The figures, compiled from hundreds of partially censored pages filed by RCMP officers, highlight preference for the 50,000-volt tool to help control dangerous situations with usually minimal injury. But they also suggest a pattern of use as a quick means to keep relatively low-risk prisoners, drunks and unruly suspects in line.

– From Most RCMP Taser targets are unarmed, review finds, by Jim Bronskill and Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press. The Toronto Star, November 19, 2007

The RCMP is stripping crucial details about Taser firings from public reports as use of the controversial stun guns skyrockets across the country. A joint investigation by The Canadian Press and CBC found the Mounties are now refusing to divulge key information that must be recorded each time they draw their electronic weapons.

Taser report forms obtained under the ATIA show the Mounties have used the powerful weapons more than 4,000 times since introducing them seven years ago. As Taser use escalates, however, the RCMP has tightened the lid of secrecy. Information stripped from the forms includes details of several Taser cases the Mounties previously made public under the access law. In effect, the RCMP is reclassifying details of Taser use – including some telling facts that raised pointed questions about how often the stun guns are fired and why. In fact, Canadians now know more about the Tasering of dogs than humans.

– From Mounties zap details from Taser reports as firings soar across Canada, by Jim Bronskill and Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press. The Vancouver Sun, March 24, 2008

The head of the national police force says the RCMP stumbled by keeping too many secrets on Taser use. The admission from Commissioner William Elliott came as fresh controversy erupted over Vancouver transit police zapping suspected free-riders on the city’s light rail system. Elliott says the Mounties shouldn’t have censored key details about stun gun firings across the country before agreeing to release more information.

‘Frankly, we didn’t handle this very well,’ Elliott said Tuesday during a speech in Gatineau, Quebec. ‘We should not have needed two kicks at the can. We must learn from that, and do better.’

– From RCMP boss says police force should have done better on details of Taser transparency. Daily News, Prince Rupert, B.C., April 16, 2008

Government Accountability

Canada’s spy agency is “lagging behind” other countries when it comes to telling the public about its work in the shadows, says an internal study obtained under the ATIA. The analysis prepared for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service found the agency’s annual public report to be dull, timid and full of recycled information – unlike documents produced by allied spy services: ‘The expectation exists that CSIS will follow suit and be more open about its operations.’ The spy agency has not issued a report for the last two years; the most recent one covers 2004-05.

– From Internal report urges spy agency to change ways, be less secretive. Kamloops Daily News, B.C., January 12, 2008

Statistics Canada broke its own rules during the 2006 census by neglecting to lock up sensitive records and allowing new hires to start working without proper security clearance, says a new audit says released under the ATIA. Census officials also failed to send out 81,000 paycheques to temporary workers on time, causing morale problems and damaging the agency’s reputation.

– From Statscan breached own privacy standards, audit finds, by Dean Beeby. The Globe and Mail, December 24, 2007

A serious gender gap exists within the RCMP in B.C., with female officers far less likely than their male colleagues to believe they are treated fairly and that their rights are respected, according to an internal survey obtained through the ATIA. In a phone interview, Eli Sopow, the civilian RCMP employee who conducted the survey, said the results have troubled senior brass: ‘The officers here are taking this very seriously and saying we’ve got to improve this and improve it significantly.’

– From RCMP still old boys club: survey, by Chad Skelton. Kamloops Daily News, B.C., October 29, 2007

Canada was cast as a bad actor that aggressively campaigned alongside countries with tarnished human-rights records in its failed bid to derail the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The non-binding declaration was expected to be adopted in September 2007 by the UN General Assembly.

The Conservatives said the declaration is flawed, vague and open to broad interpretation. In fact, documents released to Amnesty International under the ATIA show that the government fought against the declaration despite advice from its own officials in Foreign Affairs, Indian Affairs and National Defence, all of them urging its support.

– From Canada slammed over UN declaration, by Sue Bailey. The Globe and Mail. September 7, 2007

The Public’s Money

An Ottawa Citizen investigation found about 1 in 20 gas pumps in Canada was pumping less gas than indicated on the readout when inspected, according to Measurement Canada inspection data obtained under the ATIA.
By using the most conservative figures, pumps that fell outside the tolerance zone would have shortchanged consumers by at least $17 million annually if projected across the entire industry. At the same time, however, fast pumps would give out $8 million in free gas. On the small percentage of pumps outside the tolerance zone, consumers come out about $9 million behind. But if pumps that passed inspection also skewed against the consumer by about the same rate within the tolerance zone, Canadian drivers would be out of pocket even more.

Days after the story appeared, Industry Minister Jim Prentice ordered increased inspection of retail gas pumps across the country, saying, ‘I’ve instructed that there be beefed-up inspection and beefed-up verification, that pumps are honest and accurate.’

– You’re not getting the gas you pay for: Five per cent of pumps cheat buyers, probe shows, by Glen McGregor, Ottawa Citizen, May 10, 2008

Federal auditors are targeting some of the biggest names in corporate Canada for allegedly overcharging millions of dollars in their contracts with government, heavily censored records released through the ATIA showed. There were 62 contracts in dispute as of Aug. 31, 2007, with auditors alleging some corporations have claimed for ineligible costs, excess profits, overpriced goods, incorrect wage rates and a dozen other problems altogether worth about $9.5-million.

– From Federal auditors investigate alleged overcharging by corporations, by Dean Beeby, Canadian Press. The Globe and Mail, January 30, 2006

Federal bureaucrats at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans routinely fail to justify their use of untendered contracts, despite scandals that have shown the perils of buying goods and services without using a competitive process. A new audit of 141 contracts awarded by the department has found that in more than half the cases of untendered contracts, there is no justification in the file to explain the lack of a competition.

– From Fisheries audit probes untendered contracts, by Daniel LeBlanc. The Globe and Mail, December 11, 2006

Natural Resources Canada has ordered an investigation into the way the federal government collects offshore oil royalties after auditors uncovered a series of shoddy accounting practices, records disclosed under the ATIA reveal.

– From Fed oil royalties a little crude; Natural Resources audits reveal shoddy accounting, by Dean Beeby, The Toronto Sun, May 26, 2008.

The Conservative government scrambled to explain a report that the Afghanistan mission will run $1 billion over budget this fiscal year. Documents obtained under the ATIA indicate the mission has cost Canadian taxpayers at least $7.5 billion since 2001 – double what was budgeted.

The government did not deny the budget blowout for 2007-08 reported in La Presse newspaper. It simply warned that the $1 billion was based on preliminary estimates that cannot be confirmed until after the end of the fiscal year in March. The report came two days before a scheduled confidence vote in the Commons on extending Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan.

– From War $1B over budget: report; Tories scramble to explain cost overrun of Afghan mission, by Alexander Panetta, Canadian Press. The Toronto Sun, March 12, 2008

A federal department has been buying its employees expensive memberships in groups that lobby the government – a potential conflict-of-interest, says a new report released under the ATIA.

The audit found that Natural Resources Canada spent almost $1-million in 2006 on memberships in professional bodies, or an average of about $300 for each employee. It says the spending is far in excess of amounts spent by other departments and too often takes place without any apparent consideration of ethics.

– From Natural Resources audit reveals potential conflicts; Department spent $1-million on memberships in professional organizations, some of which lobby Ottawa, by Dean Beeby. The Globe and Mail, November 5, 2007

The bulk of a $10 million federal research loan given to a Michelin tire factory in Nova Scotia isn’t due until 2041 – terms that leave another borrower questioning the program’s fairness. Details of the 2006 loan, obtained through the ATIA, say the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency requires Michelin to provide 29 annual payments of $85,000 – culminating in a single, final payment of $7.53 million more than three decades from now.

– From Michelin plant gets sweet deal on federal loan; Bulk of repayment not due for 3 decades, another research fund borrower points out, by Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press. The Toronto Star, February 18, 2008

Most Canadian charities that provide disaster relief at home and abroad are breaking the rules, suggests a new probe by the Canada Revenue Agency. More than half of the 27 disaster-relief charities randomly picked for close scrutiny by the agency’s charities directorate failed to meet standards – including some that handed over donations to ‘non-qualified’ recipients abroad, says an internal report obtained under the ATIA.

– From Charities breaking the rules, probe finds, by Dean Beeby. The Globe and Mail, November 19, 2007

Large corporations scooped up the lion’s share of almost $1-billion in federal tax credits designed to stimulate Canadian film and video productions, says a federal government report released under the ATIA. ‘The allocation of the tax credit was extremely concentrated,’ according to the Finance Department report. ‘Corporate groups received a large share of the tax credit, with the top 10 receiving close to 30 per cent of the total.’

– From Large corporations receive bulk of film tax credits. The Canadian Press. The Globe and Mail, April 14, 2008

Toronto’s Pearson airport gets low marks for efficiency and fee levels in a ‘scorecard’ created by Transport Canada, rankings that help confirm the airport’s global reputation as a high-cost facility for both airlines and passengers. The draft scorecards were obtained under the ATIA. ‘For all measures of cost efficiency … Toronto was significantly poorer than either Vancouver or Calgary,’ says the report by the non-profit agency Transport 2000.

– From Pearson costlier way to fly, report shows; Draft figures show Toronto’s airport has higher fees, less efficiency than Vancouver or Calgary, by Dean Beeby, The Canadian Press. The Toronto Star, March 17, 2008

The federal government transfers money electronically into the wrong bank accounts more than 3,000 times each year, newly disclosed documents show. And these rogue direct deposits, which accidentally enrich the wrong people, have been worth as much as $181,000 in a single transaction. Internal spreadsheets detailing the problem of ‘misdirected direct deposits’ were obtained under the ATIA.

– $1.9-million in federal cheques directly deposited to wrong accounts, by Dean Beeby. The Globe and Mail, March 3, 2008

Soaring drug bills in Canada could be cut if doctors simply paid attention to the cost of the medications they prescribe, says a federal report. The study by IMS Health Consulting Inc. and commissioned by Industry Canada, found that Canadian physicians are generally oblivious to drug prices and often prescribe an expensive pharmaceutical when a cheap one would do.

The situation is better in the United States and Great Britain, where health-management systems that do take drug prices into account help reduce pharmacy bills. The 2007 document was released under the ATIA. IMS fought its release in Federal Court for several months before recently withdrawing the legal challenge.

– MDs prescribe costly drugs, not generics Study; Report says alerting doctors to prices could help cut country’s bill, by Dean Beeby. Toronto Star, October 22, 2007

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