MABOU: The province’s privacy commissioner wants to provide Nova Scotians with the tools they need to access public information.

Last week, the Alexander Doyle Public library hosted an information session by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) as part of “Right to Know Week” in Nova Scotia.

“The last couple of years, we’ve organized events in Halifax, and this year we decided we really wanted to get out across Nova Scotia to speak in smaller towns,” said Catherine Tully, Information and Privacy Commissioner.

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The office wanted to speak with people in communities that may not be familiar with Nova Scotia’s freedom of information and privacy laws and to provide them with the tools they need to navigate them successfully. In an effort to extend their outreach, the independent oversight agency contacted local libraries. Alexander Doyle Public Library was one of the organizations that responded to the request to partner with the OIPC.

“Freedom of Information laws are meant to ensure that government is accountable to citizens,” said Tully. “It’s very important to ensure fairness and transparency in government decision making and to facilitate public participation that we can access the information. So it’s important that people know how to use the law.”

During the presentation Mary Kennedy, intake manager with the OIPC, explained the public’s rights to access information under Nova Scotia law. She explained that citizens can apply to access records held by any public body in Nova Scotia, both provincial and municipal. Agencies covered include schools, government departments, and police.

These laws can also be used to access an applicant’s own personal records, such as health or financial information, or they can be used file a privacy complaint in the event that an individual’s privacy has been breached.

“The government could potentially withhold some information under the law, but there are only limited exceptions and they have to prove that they apply,” said Commissioner Tully.

The OIPC aims to make these laws as accessible as possible. The office can provide advice, assist with the application process, and provide the necessary forms, either electronically or by mail. Nova Scotia offers application services online and some information disclosed through access to information laws is now made available digitally and can be accessed through the office’s Web site. Applicants who have their requests for information denied can appeal to the OIPC.

“We’re not the government; we’re separate from the government. You would appeal to us, and we’ll look at the government’s decision and compare it with the law. Then we make a recommendation about whether or not we think they’re abiding by the law,” said Tully.

Anyone who wishes to find out more about Nova Scotia’s access to information and privacy laws can contact the OIPC at their toll free number 1-800-855-0511. Further information can also be found in their newly revised publication, A Citizens Guide to Information Access and Privacy Rights in Nova Scotia. The guide can be accessed through their Web site: foipop.ns.ca or by contacting the office.