Commercial Confidentiality Needlessly Trumps Transparency at Crown Corp, Report Finds
Ottawa, March 29, 2005 'Export Development Canada (EDC) can play a more proactive role in shedding light on key environmental information for the projects it supports, while still balancing company demands for confidentiality, argues a new report by Sierra Legal Defense Fund. The report lays out a framework for enhancing access to information within the financial institution.
'A balanced disclosure regime can both address and accommodate company concerns, while still meeting the Canadian public's expectations around greater transparency' said Randy Christensen, Staff Lawyer at Sierra Legal and co-author of the Report. 'EDC can both act on a presumption of disclosure, while building in an established balancing mechanism to ensure that true confidentiality concerns are protected.'
The report calls on EDC to remodel elements of its existing information disclosure policy to bring it in-line with the Access to Information Act (A to I Act), arguing that such changes can occur even before it is brought under the Act. In particular, it identifies four primary ways in which the Act surpasses EDC's current practices: its definition of 'confidential information', or information that is both commercially sensitive and relevant to public accountability; the presumption of disclosing information, in the absence of compelling reasons not to disclose; consistent and clear timelines for how information will be disclosed; and, recourse to review by an impartial decision-maker in the case where information is withheld.
"We don't deny that company and EDC concerns around competitiveness and confidentiality are genuine', said Fraser Reilly-King of the Halifax Initiative, a watchdog group of EDC, 'but the analysis in this report shows that these concerns are manifestly overstated. If other Export credit agencies ' with similar concerns ' are releasing environmental information, why not EDC?'
Internationally, the report highlights existing practices among nine other export credit agencies (ECA) that release environmental impact assessments (EIAs) up to forty-five days prior to board approval. For example, Ex-Im, EDC's counterpart in the United States, addresses company concerns over commercial confidentiality by having any such information removed by the applicant or owner of an EIA prior to the early release of the document to interested parties.
'EDC's disclosure policy advocates what is in essence a 'trust us' approach', added Tim Howard, co-author of the report and Staff Lawyer with Sierra Legal. 'Not only is this totally inconsistent with basic principles of democratic transparency, but it also falls short in terms of both national and international standards around the disclosure of environmental information.'
In February, a Treasury Board report recommended including EDC under the A to I Act, but only after the government had developed mechanisms to protect commercially sensitive information.
The full report is available at http://www.sierralegal.org and http://www.halifaxinitiative.org/updir/EDC_Disclosure_Review_-_SLDF.pdf
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For further information, contact:
Randy Christensen, Staff Lawyer, Sierra Legal Defense Fund, (604) 685-5618
Fraser Reilly-King, Export and Project Finance, Halifax Initiative Coalition, (613) 789-4447