Protecting your rights
Commissioner monitors government

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Feb 07/00) - When push comes to shove, Elaine Keenan-Bengts isn't afraid to shove right back.

As a matter of fact, pushing public bodies -- such as the GN's various political departments -- to comply with her recommendations is her primary responsibility as the access to information and protection of privacy commissioner.

More specifically, since the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act came into existence in 1997 in the NWT and Nunavut, governments are no longer able to arbitrarily deny individuals access to information. Keenan-Bengts acts as the commissioner in both territories.

"Prior to this act, I could say, 'I want a copy of a contract the GNWT has with Joe Blow Contracting.' They could simply say, 'We're not going to give you that. Go away, you pesky little thing,'" said Keenan-Bengts.

With the act in place, individuals who are denied access can take their complaints to the commissioner. After researching and considering the request, Keenan-Bengts makes a recommendation.

If the government still refuses to comply and the applicant is unsatisfied, she explained they then have the option to take the matter before the Nunavut Court of Justice.

But why, you might ask, is it important in a democratic society to create such a watch-dog position?

"Frankly, the point of having it is to keep government open and accountable," she said. "Politicians have sometimes decided it's more advantageous to them to keep certain information to themselves. The government is public and you should be entitled to that information."

Keenan-Bengts is also responsible for ensuring that public agencies don't recklessly trade information about their clients. She noted that with the increased use of the Internet, more and more people were becoming concerned about the personal information they released.

"The more information there is out there, the more likely it is to be violated," she said.

"Every week, we're hearing about somebody who has hacked into something and used personal information." mation."