Nunavut’s access to information and privacy law won’t work under current conditions, said Graham Steele, the territory’s information and privacy commissioner.

This was communicated to the Nunavut Legislative Assembly during a televised standing committee meeting on the commissioner’s annual reports from the previous two years.

“The most fundamental weak point in the system is that a (Access to Information and Protection to Privacy — ATIPP) coordinator is not paid well enough,” said Steele. In addition, it’s also a position that doesn’t come with staff housing, which is often a deal-breaker for prospective ATIPP coordinators about to deal with Nunavut’s cost-of-living.

“You got a relatively low-paying job with no housing. The applicants who put their name in are people with very little experience — they tend to be young, maybe they haven’t been in government before. They almost certainly never dealt with the information law before,” he added.

This problem is exacerbated by the Government of Nunavut’s persistent challenges in filling staff vacancies.

“The body of ATIPP personnel has been a challenge for the GN to staff,” said Jimmy Onalik, deputy minister of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs and Secretary to Cabinet. “The volume of work and responsibilities has outpaced resources previously established. Addressing the current obligations while simultaneously making the necessary improvements will be an incredible challenge and will take significant time.”

In the short-term, the Government of Nunavut has seen “unprecedented” departures of staff. Within the first seven months of 2022, there have been nearly 500 employees who have left. Typically in a normal, 12-month cycle, there are approximately 420 departures.

Historically, the Government of Nunavut has been able to run between 400-500 job competitions a year.

“It is disingenuous to suggest the implementation of our current obligations will get easier unless we are able to address the foundational shortage of workers from across the government,” said Onalik.

Senior policy advisors needed for ATIPP law

The system can work, it’s already working for some departments, said Steele, who cited the Department of Health as being one such bright spot.

“Health knows we disagree on some things, but overall they do an excellent job,” said Steele.

Good management support, an active culture around information and ATIPP coordinators with senior policy experience and departmental knowledge are the key to making it all work, he added.

“What the law says is not impossible to do. Health is a big complicated department. If Health can do the right thing, the other departments can do the right thing too.”

Other notable departments that Steele praised in his annual report include the Department of Community and Government Services as well as Justice. However, those are too dependent on individual coordinators.

“The Department of Justice does a really good job. In my report, I said they had two really good people,” said Steele. “Since I wrote my report, they both left. They haven’t left the department, they’re doing different jobs — now somebody new is doing the work.

“One of the things I worry about is that whether a department does a good job or not so good a job seems to depend too much on that person who is doing the job.” he said, adding that Community and Government Services is vulnerable to such staffing changes.

Onalik added that the Government of Nunavut’s “departments have significant difficulties in finding interested personnel to take on these demanding tasks.”

One possible solution, Steele said, is to have a small central information unit and take the onus away from the departments.

“If we do that and these people are paid properly from the beginning, they’re going to want to stay in those jobs.”

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