National News

Info czar takes port authority to court

Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt addresses a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, May 26, 2014. Canada
Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt addresses a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, May 26, 2014. Canada's information watchdog is taking the Toronto Port Authority to court for refusing to disclose an audited expense report from a time when Raitt was at the agency's helm.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
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By Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - Canada's information watchdog is taking the Toronto Port Authority to court for refusing to disclose an audited expense report from a time when Transport Minister Lisa Raitt was at the agency's helm.

The information commissioner's office filed an application in Federal Court on Friday, asking the court to order the release of the report and all other relevant documents.

The application is the latest step in a continuing battle with the news media and critics over transparency at the port authority.

In June 2009, The Canadian Press asked the federal agency to provide a copy of its 2008 expense audit report, along with any notes, minutes or recordings of a Dec. 23, 2008, audit committee meeting.

The request was made several months after the port authority issued a news release, citing the committee meeting, saying it had made unspecified "clarifications" to management policies governing hospitality expenses.

At the time, audit committee chairman Colin Watson said the clarifications were needed to improve transparency, but refused to elaborate.

Watson also acknowledged complaints from some board members about hospitality spending by the authority in 2008, but said that based on an initial review there was nothing unusual about the expenses claimed.

Initially, the port authority refused to provide any documents. Officials later released some documents but they were heavily redacted.

Former New Democrat MP Olivia Chow — now a candidate for mayor of Toronto — asked then-auditor general Sheila Fraser in 2009 to investigate the authority, which owns and operates the Toronto City Centre Airport and oversees air and marine traffic in Toronto harbours.

Chow released documents in June 2009 that showed Raitt had spent nearly $80,000 on travel and hospitality in 2007 and 2008.

Former Toronto city councillor Adam Vaughan, now running for the Liberals in a federal byelection in Toronto's Trinity-Spadina riding, has also complained for years about the suppression of information by the authority.

Port officials have argued the records sought by The Canadian Press contain sensitive commercial and financial information that, once released, could prejudice its competitive position.

But the information commissioner's office contends it's up to the authority to prove that releasing the 2008 audit qualifies for such an exemption under the Access to Information Act — and has rejected the authority's arguments.

Chow has said the port authority is too secretive about how it manages taxpayer money.

Raitt was appointed president and CEO of the Toronto Port Authority in 2002 and held the position until 2008 when she resigned to run in the election that made her MP for the Ontario riding of Halton.

The port authority has said Raitt's expenses while she was in charge of the agency were "in line" with its budget and spending policy.

The authority said it would respond to the court application soon.

"The Toronto Port Authority received a copy of the application filed by the information commissioner of Canada in the Federal Court seeking review of TPA’s application of exemptions under the Access to Information Act," Erin Mikaluk, the agency's communications manager said in a statement Monday.

"The TPA expects to respond to the application within the next 10 days."

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