Canadian bureaucrats shirked ‘duty to assist’ with listeria information request

The 2008 listeria outbreak in Canada caused by Maple Leaf deli meats that killed 23 and sickened 56 was characterized by multiple failures amongst multiple players – primarily Maple Leaf, the Canadian government, and dieticians at assisted-care facilities.

A few journalists tried to peel back the layers of palp but were often stonewalled. Yesterday, the federal information czar chastised the department that serves the Prime Minister for shirking its duty to assist The Canadian Press with an access-to-information request seeking files on the listeriosis outbreak.

The staff of Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, an ombudsman for users of the access law, took more than two years to rule on the news agency’s complaint.

The listeriosis matter dates back to an October 2008 request for all transcripts and minutes of conference calls in the previous two months on the health crisis.

Four months later, the Privy Council Office decided the records it possessed did not fall under the request because they were handwritten notes, not formal minutes or transcripts.

The information commissioner disagreed, and asked the PCO to process the notes.

The handwritten notes were not released to The Canadian Press until February this year — 28 months after the original access request was made.