CRTC, Choice Words
The CRTC has broken Canada’s records disclosure laws regarding chair Ian Scott’s meetings with Big Telecom lobbyists and executives – including beers with Bell chief executive Mirko Bibic in an Ottawa pub – according to a series of determinations by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada.
The CRTC took nearly eight months to provide records related to Scott's meetings with lobbyists or executives from Bell, Shaw and Telus. Our request for these records under the Access to Information Act were filed in June 2021 and were only partially fulfilled in February this year. The Information Commissioner has determined that our delay complaints in these matters were well founded.
“[The] CRTC failed to respond to the request not only by the statutory due date, but also by their own extended due date. As such, CRTC was in deemed refusal” of its obligations under the Information Act, two of the rulings say.
Federal institutions have 30 days to respond to records requests from members of the public but can request extensions on several grounds. The CRTC did so in each case, saying it needed to consult third parties – presumably the respective companies – but then missed the deadlines on its own 60-day extensions. In the case of Shaw, the Information Commissioner ruled an extension claim invalid because it was made after the 30-day deadline.
The investigations "revealed that the delays were due mainly to an extended period of time taken to initiate the processing of the request, as well as additional time required to review the file and to seek clarification from a third-party consultation,” according to Commissioner.
The private meeting between Scott and Bibic took place on Dec. 19, 2019, just days after Bell filed an application asking the CRTC to overturn a final ruling that would have significantly lowered Canadian internet prices and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in overcharges being refunded by big companies to smaller internet providers. The CRTC ultimately did reverse its ruling in May of last year, a big win for Bell and the other large telcos.
Earlier this year, Scott told the press he was having friendly beers with Bibic and explained to a House of Commons committee that he saw nothing wrong with doing so. According to records previously obtained under the Access to Information Act, CRTC staff appear to have documented the meeting only after the pair were caught on camera.
The meeting has been cited by TekSavvy as evidence of Scott’s bias toward big companies, both in a petition to Cabinet to overturn the wholesale rates decision, and in a complaint to the federal Integrity Commissioner.
Lack of transparency beyond delays
Though the Information Commissioner's determinations relate to delays in releasing information, the CRTC is showing a continuing lack of transparency in providing incomplete records of its chair's activities.
Aside from the eight-month delays in providing records, the CRTC also heavily redacted the information it did deliver, variously removing associated names, times and meeting locations. Those redactions are the grounds of further complaints we filed with the Information Commissioner in February.
The Commissioner is also continuing to investigate a disclosure delay regarding Scott's meetings with representatives from Rogers. A complaints officer says she is unable to comment on the delay since the investigation is still in progress.
We have also requested the following records from the CRTC, none of which have yet been provided and all of which are past the statutory deadlines:
- Credit card and expense records made by chair Ian Scott between Jan. 1, 2019 and Aug. 31, 2019, requested on Nov. 8, 2021.
- Communications between Scott and CRTC staff, including email, text messages, phone call records and call logs, between Dec. 1, 2019 and Dec. 31, 2019, requested on Dec. 2, 2021.
- Communications between CRTC staff and commissioners regarding the previous requests on Scott’s apparent solo meetings with Bell, Rogers, Telus and Shaw, requested on Dec. 13, 2021.
- Records of Scott’s business uses of CRTC vehicles, requested on Feb. 16, 2022.
- Metadata information for the calendar entry of Scott’s meeting with Bibic showing when it was created, requested on Feb. 16, 2022.
It's worth noting that while there are consequences to obstructing investigations by the Information Commissioner, there are no penalties for government departments and agencies delaying or refusing records access requests by the public.
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