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Government Asks Info Commissioner To Look At Access Interference Case

The government has asked Canada’s information commissioner to look into new allegations against a former ministerial aide accused of meddling in the release of government information.

Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis says the file on former aide Sebastien Togneri has been sent to the commissioner, Suzanne Legault.

Togneri resigned Thursday evening after The Canadian Press reported a series of cases in which he interfered with access-to-information requests while Paradis ran Public Works.

The information commissioner is already investigating an earlier complaint from The Canadian Press about Togneri’s handling of an access request.

Opposition MPs want Paradis to take responsibility for his aide’s action and resign.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press show that Togneri directed bureaucrats to withhold material destined for release.

Some of those access-to-information requests dealt with touchy subjects such as U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Canada in early 2009, and asbestos.

Reviewing what’s about to be made public is accepted practice, but altering or blocking the release of documents is forbidden by law.

Liberal MP Marcel Proulx said the case is potentially a criminal one.

“This practice was widespread within the minister’s office,” he said.

“Documents prove that a number of the minister’s senior staff took part in this systematic, misleading and illegal coverup.”

Questioned repeatedly on the case, Paradis said he accepted Togneri’s resignation and had the matter referred to the commissioner.

“I quickly took the file and I asked the minister of public works to take the file and to send it to the information commissioner, which was done. I had the confirmation this morning.”

The commissioner has been investigating Togneri since the spring in connection with his blocking of an access request submitted by The Canadian Press in 2009.

Togneri had testified at a Commons committee that he only interfered in an access case once and called his actions “stupid” and a “mistake.”