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Myanmar: Launch of Digital Security Guide for Journalists

The Digital Security Guide for Journalists was launched today in Yangon. The Guide is a simple, accessible tool to help journalists protect their communications and digital devices against hacking, surveillance and other forms of digital harassment. It was prepared by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) in collaboration with International Media Support (IMS), FOJO Media Institute and the Myanmar Press Council (MPC).

“Given the high risk of attacks, journalists around the world need to put in place at least basic digital security measures,” said Toby Mendel, Executive, Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD). “This Guide, available in both English and Burmese, provides working journalists with hands-on tools about how to protect themselves against digital attacks.”

“Enhancing digital security for journalists is a priority for the Press Council,” said U Thiha Saw, Secretary of the Myanmar Press Council. “The MPC will do its best to make sure that as many journalists as possible can access this Guide, which provides them with simple and practical advice on how to protect themselves online.

The launch event was attended by some 50 journalists from around the country, including a number working for ethnic media outlets. It is just the first step in disseminating the Guide, which organisers hope will be widely shared and disseminated in both electronic and physcial versions.

The Guide is available in English and Burmese at:

Digital Security Guide [English]
Digital Security Guide [Burmese]

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+95 0995 096 0849
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

U Thiha Saw
Secretary
Myanmar Press Council
+95 095037571
executivedirector@mjimyanmar.org

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Myanmar: Groups Plan to Reform Digital Content Restrictions

The Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network (MMLN) and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) organised a workshop with civil society groups and lawyers from across the country on 9 December to discuss reform of laws which restrict freedom of expression online, including the Electronic Transactions Law, Official Secrets Act, Telecommunications Law, News Media Law and certain provisions of the Penal Code. Numerous cases have been brought under these laws, most of which were brought for political purposes.

“A wide range of actors have long recognised the need to reform these laws,” said Toby Mendel, Executive, CLD. “This workshop was important inasmuch as we are moving forward to develop concrete reform proposals.”

Participants, including leading local and international legal experts, discussed concrete proposals for reforming these laws. Some of the proposals were far-reaching in nature, including repeal of most of the 1923 Official Secrets Act. The proposals will be further refined for future advocacy work aimed at getting government and parliament to move forward to amend the laws.

“Lawyers from MMLN have defended several of those who were charged in recent years under the provisions we discussed today, such as section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law,” said Than Zaw, Secretary of the Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network. “Reforming these laws is essential to protect freedom of speech.

A detailed legal analysis of the problematical provisions is available in English and Burmese at:
Myanmar: Regulating Digital Content [English]
Myanmar: Regulating Digital Content [Burmese]

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+95 (0)995 096 0849
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

Than Zaw Aung
Secretary
Myanmar Media Lawyers’ Network
+95 9 795586316
thanzawau@gmail.com

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Pakistan: CLD Kicks off Right to Information Project

The Centre for Law and Democracy kicked off a new right to information (RTI) project in Pakistan today with a public presentation on the benefits of RTI. The project aims to provide support to information commissions and local government actors in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces of Pakistan with a view to improving implementation of RTI there. It is being undertaken as part of the Support to Local Governance Programme being run by the official German technical cooperation organisation, Deutsche Gesellshaft für Internationale Zusammenartbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

 

This is an exciting project inasmuch as we are working directly with a range of key actors to improve implementation of the RTI laws in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, which are among the strongest anywhere in the world”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “We also hope to develop more robust tools to assess implementation, something which is sorely needed.

The talk, at Beaconhouse National University (BNU), focused on the benefits of RTI with a view to trying to get more people engaged on the demand side through making requests for information. The event also included presentations by the Deputy Director of the Punjab Information Commission, local NGO the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI), GIZ and BNU staff.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Pakistan: Right to Information Law Disappointing

The Centre for Law and Democracy has prepared an analysis of the Pakistan Right of Access to Information Bill. The Bill, passed last week by the Pakistani National Assembly, is identical to the version passed by the Senate in May 2017. The Bill earned 105 points on the RTI Rating. This is far better than the right to information law currently in force, the 2002 Freedom of Information Ordinance, but far weaker than the groundbreaking laws adopted by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces in 2013.

 

The modest nature of the current Bill can only be described as disappointing”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “Given the bold initiatives in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, we had been hoping for something more ambitious.

The Bill improves on the 2002 Ordinance in a number of areas. These include having a much broader scope in terms of the bodies covered, establishing much more user-friendly procedures for making and processing requests, providing for a narrower set of exceptions to the right of access and putting in place stronger measures to promote proper implementation of the law. Importantly, it also establishes a dedicated oversight body, the Commission on Access to Information.

At the same time, the Bill suffers from a number of weaknesses. Some of the more important of these are:

  • It only applies to citizens and covers a narrow range of types of information.
  • The regime of exceptions to the right of access is significantly overbroad, including because it lacks a public interest override.
  • The independence of the oversight Commission is not sufficiently protected.
  • Public bodies are not required to report annually on what they have done to implement the law.

Click here for CLD’s analysis of the Right to Information Bill
Click here for the Pakistani Bill

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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International Right to Know Day Activities

The Centre for Law and Democracy is this year celebrating International Right to Know Day, 28 September, by undertaking a few different activities. We are hosting an Ask Me Anything on Reddit on the theme of the Day, with support from colleagues in Argentina (CELE), South Africa (ODAC), Spain (AIE), Tunisia (GoAct) and Uganda (Catherine Anite). In previous years, we have had a huge response to these events.

We are also launching our report, Canada: Civil Society Parallel Assessment of Compliance with Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 16.10.2. The report, based on a methodology prepared by FOIAnet, assesses the performance of ten Canadian public authorities in terms of implementation of the right to information. The methodology, as well as reports by other FOIAnet member organisations in countries around the world, can be found at: http://foiadvocates.net/?page_id=11036.

Our assessment shows that the ten public authorities did reasonably well in terms of proactive disclosure and institutional measures (such as appointing information officers)”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “But they did a lot less well when it came to responding to requests for information, which is at the heart of any right to information system.

Finally, CLD has spearheaded a joint letter signed by some 35 organisations and 25 individuals to Scott Brison, President of Treasury Board, about the unacceptably weak proposals of the government, in the form of Bill C-58, to reform Canada’s right to information law, the Access to Information Act. Treasury Board is the ministry which is responsible for the right to information in Canada. Despite bold promises by the government to make public authorities “open by default”, the proposals address only one of the demands of civil society for reform of the Act, namely by giving order-making powers to the Information Commissioner. They fail to address other issues such as long delays in processing requests and a significantly overbroad regime of exceptions. Bill C-58 even fails to implement the government’s long-standing promise to expand the scope of coverage of the Act to Ministers’ offices and courts.

CLD’s report on implementation of SDG16.10.2 is available at: https://www.law-democracy.org/live/parallel-report-on-canadas-compliance-with-sdg-16-10-2/

The joint letter to the Canadian government on its proposals to reform the Access to Information Act is available at: https://www.law-democracy.org/live/letter-to-the-president-of-the-treasury-board-demanding-access-to-information-reform/

Bill C-58 is available at: https://openparliament.ca/bills/42-1/C-58/.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688

www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Parallel Report on Canada’s Compliance with SDG 16.10.2

The Centre for Law and Democracy has assessed the compliance of ten Canadian public authorities with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Indicator 16.10.2, which is: “Adoption and implementation of constitutional, statutory and/or policy guarantees for public access to information”. The methodology behind the assessment was developed by the Freedom of Information Advocates Network (FOIAnet) and assessments are being conducted by different FOIAnet members in a number of countries around the world. CLD has produced a report summarising the results of the assessment, Canada: Civil Society Parallel Assessment of Compliance with Sustainable Development Goal Indicator 16.10.2.

Click here for the Report
Click here for information about the FOIAnet methodology and other assessments

The ten public authorities covered in this assessment did fairly well in terms of proactive disclosure and institutional measures (such as appointing information officers)”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “But performance was much worse on the part of the assessment which involved responding to requests for information.

In terms of requests, three authorities – namely Business Development Bank of Canada, the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Parole Board of Canada – did excellently. However, all of the others – namely Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Elections Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Health Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, Public Safety Canada and Status of Women Canada – had at least one ‘fail’ rating among the two or three requests that were made to them.

The wider goal of the exercise is to ensure that the assessment of compliance with this SDG Indicator is accurate and fair, and benefits from civil society input. The FOIAnet methodology focuses only on the second part of the Indicator, namely implementation of guarantees of access to information. We already have good information on the adoption of access to information laws through the RTI Rating (www.RTI-Rating.org) developed by the Centre for Law and Democracy and Access Info Europe.

Based on the assessment, CLD made the following recommendations in the report:

  • Public authorities should aim to move from ‘partial’ to ‘full’ ratings for all categories of proactive disclosure.
  • All authorities should provide training to their staff on access to information.
  • For electronic requests, information should be sent as email attachments rather than via flash drives or disks sent by mail.
  • All public authorities should allow for the $5 application fee to be paid electronically rather than requiring requesters to mail cheques to them.
  • More needs to be done to ensure that requests are answered within the time limits.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688

www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Joint letter to the Canadian government on its proposals to reform the Access to Information Act

On International Right to Know Day , The Centre for Law and Democracy joined a global coalition of civil society organisations and concerned citizens committed to ensuring a strong access to information (ATI) system in Canada to issue a letter to the President of the Treasury Board, Scott Brison, calling on him to withdraw the government’s inadequate Access to Information Act reform legislation, Bill C-58 and come forward with a bill that would address seriously the broken access to information system. We have reproduced the letter below.

28 September 2017

We are writing to you as Canadian and international organisations and individuals who are committed to ensuring a strong access to information (ATI) system in Canada.

Today is International Right to Know Day, a date when groups around the world celebrate the importance of freedom of information to both democracy and good governance. Yet there is little to celebrate in Canada. Canada’s access to information system is broken, putting at risk citizens’ fundamental right to hold their government accountable.

The Access to Information Act (ATIA), now nearly 35 years old, is in desperate need of major reforms to reduce delays and provide for an effective right to access information held by public authorities. This challenge calls for bold and thoroughgoing reforms to the ATIA to align it with international standards and better practice in other countries.

Unfortunately the government’s proposed ATIA reform, Bill C-58, comprehensively fails to meet this challenge. Indeed, this long-awaited bill fails to address a number of serious problems in the Act, including the vastly overbroad regime of exceptions, the broad discretion of public authorities to delay in responding to requests, the absence of any duty for public authorities to document important decision making processes, and the limited scope of coverage of the Act. In some areas, it even weakens the current rules.

Canada is ranked a miserable 49th out of 111 countries on the RTI Rating, a global methodology for assessing the strength of a country’s legal framework for the right to information (RTI). Bill C-58 would only lift Canada three positions to 46th globally, according to an analysis by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD). We can and must do better. A healthy and effective access to information system is critical to free expression, public participation and holding government to account. By introducing legislation of such inadequacy the government is failing these basic values.

We call for Bill C-58 to be scrapped, and for government officials to be tasked with crafting a bill that takes seriously the crisis undermining our right to know. The resulting bill must, at bare minimum, include the following changes:

BARE MINIMUMS FOR REFORMING THE ACCESS TO INFORMATION SYSTEM

  • Deliver on the promise to expand the scope of the Act to cover the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministers’ Offices by allowing individuals to make requests for information from these bodies, as they may do with other public authorities, while retaining the proposed proactive publication obligations.
  • Introduce a formal duty to document for public authorities, and require them to preserve records of their decision making.
  • Put in place a robust system for limiting the discretion of public authorities to extend the time limits for responding to requests and formalise in law the fee waivers contained in the May 2016 Interim Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act.
  • Ensure that exceptions and exclusions to the right of access are narrowly defined and subject to both a test of actual harm and a mandatory public interest override.
  • Give the Information Commissioner binding, enforceable order powers over all complaints regarding requests for information. This was one of the few significant reforms included in Bill C-58, and it should be retained.

 

The public has the right to obtain the information they need to participate meaningfully in democratic processes, while also holding Canada’s public officials and Members of Parliament accountable. The current system signally fails to meet minimum standards, and Bill C-58 will not fix it. The government should withdraw Bill C-58 and present Canadians with a bill that addresses seriously the broken access to information system.

For further information please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
toby@law-democracy.org
902-431-3688

Duncan Pike
Campaigns and Advocacy Coordinator, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
dpike@cjfe.org
416-787-8156 x203

Signed,

Organisations: 

  1. AMINA Corp.
  2. Amnesty International Canada (English Branch)
  3. Atlantica Party
  4. British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
  5. British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BC FIPA)
  6. Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ)
  7. Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians / l’association Canadienne des bibliothécaires académiques professionnels
  8. Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC)
  9. Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW)
  10. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
  11. Canadian Taxpayers Federation
  12. Canadians for Accountability
  13. Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
  14. Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Regina
  15. Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
  16. Ecology Action Centre (EAC)
  17. Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ)
  18. Greenpeace Canada
  19. International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
  20. Isomer Design
  21. Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
  22. Ligue des droits et libertés
  23. MiningWatch Canada
  24. OpenMedia
  25. Open North
  26. Our Right to Know
  27. Pen Canada
  28. Privacy and Access Council of Canada — Conseil du Canada de l’Accès et la vie Privée (PACC-CCAP)
  29. Publish What You Pay Canada
  30. Queer Ontario
  31. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
  32. Research and Education for Solutions to Violence and Abuse (RESOLVE), Saskatchewan
  33. Rideau Institute
  34. RightOnCanada.ca
  35. Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association (RMCLA)
  36. Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
  37. Voice of Women for Peace  (Salt Spring chapter)
  38. Voices-Voix

Individuals:

  1. Elizabeth Ball, Academic Librarian (retired)
  2. Donna Bowman, Librarian
  3. Bruce Campbell, 2016 Law Foundation of Ontario, Leadership in Justice Fellow
  4. Stephen Chapman, Isomer Design
  5. Ann D. Cooper
  6. Phyllis Creighton, Order of Ontario
  7. Lisa Di Valentino, Law and Public Policy Librarian, University of Massachusetts
  8. Mary Francoli, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
  9. Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, University of Ottawa
  10. Dr. Brydon Gombay, Community Psychologist
  11. Carla Graebner, Librarian for Research Data Services and Government Information, W.A.C. Bennett Library, Simon Fraser University
  12. Larry Hannant, PhD historian, University of Victoria
  13. Dr. Steve Hewitt, Senior Lecturer, University of Birmingham
  14. Laverne Jacobs, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
  15. Vincent Kazmierski, Associate Professor, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University
  16. Gregory S Kealey, Professor Emeritus, University of New Brunswick
  17. Abby Lippman, Professor Emerita, McGill University
  18. Claire McNeil, Dalhousie Legal Aid Service
  19. Eugen Melinte, M. Eng
  20. Sharon Polsky, MAPP, Data Protection Advocate & Privacy by Design Ambassador
  21. J.M. Porup, Editor, MuckRock Canada
  22. Marian Ramage, Brandon, Manitoba
  23. Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law, University of Ottawa
  24. Jacquelyn Shaw
  25. Tania Thomas, Youth Services Librarian – Outreach to Newcomer Families, Surrey, British Colombia
  26. Stanley Tromp, Journalist and Author

 

 

 

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Letter to the Prime Minister on Canada’s Participation in the OGP

The Centre for Law and Democracy and similarly concerned organizations recently issued a letter to the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, urging Canada to accept a leadership role in the Open Government Partnership, an important forum for advancing transparency and accountability in government. We have reproduced the letter below.

10 July 2017

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing to you as Canadian organisations and individuals who have engaged with the Open Government Partnership (OGP) within Canada and/or internationally and who believe strongly in the importance of the OGP as a forum for advancing transparency, accountability and civic engagement.

We are aware that Canada has been considering playing a more active role in the leadership of the OGP first by acting as a support co-chair for one year and then as the lead country chair for another year. We are also aware that the OGP requires a decision on this imminently, while Canada has been delaying its response.

We urge Canada to take on this important role within the OGP. Although many of us have asked Canada to do better in some of the areas of focus for the OGP, at the same time we are conscious that Canada is well poised to play a leadership role within the organisation. Indeed, Canada is enjoying an unprecedentedly strong global reputation at the moment, and becoming the lead country chair would build on that in ways which would benefit both Canada and other members of the OGP. Globally and within the member countries of the OGP, civil society space is shrinking, and Canada’s leadership to promote inclusion and high quality participation, both at home and abroad, can be of great value to the initiative.

Other countries have made their contribution by acting as chair and it is now Canada’s turn to step up and take on this important global support role. We are willing to work with and support the government in this.

We look forward to hearing a positive announcement from Canada regarding the OGP chair position very shortly.

Signed,

Organisations:

  1. Canadian Taxpayers Federation
  2. Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
  3. Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
  4. Open North
  5. Pen Canada
  6. Powered by Data
  7. Privacy and Access Council of Canada – Conseil du Canada de l’Accès et la vie Privée
  8. Reboot
  9. Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association
  10. Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
  11. Voices-Voix

Individuals:

  1. Ana Brandusescu, Researcher, World Wide Web Foundation
  2. Merlin Chatwin, Open Government Consultant, Researcher
  3. Rob Davidson, Open Data Institute Ottawa
  4. Mary Francoli, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
  5. Jury Konga, Open Knowledge Canada Ambassador
  6. Tracey P. Lauriault, Assistant Professor, Critical Media and Big Data, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
  7. Panthea Lee, Co-Founder & Principal, Reboot
  8. Don Lenihan, Senior Associate, Policy and Engagement, Canada 2020
  9. Lindsey Marchessault Open Contracting Partnership
  10. Heather Morrison, Associate Professor, School of Information Studies, University of Ottawa
  11. Daniel J. Paré, Associate Professor, Department of Communication, School of Information Studies, and Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP), University of Ottawa
  12. Sharon Polsky MAPP, Access & Privacy Advisor
  13. Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law, University of Ottawa
  14. Claire Schouten, Senior Program Officer, International Budget Partnership
  15. Mary-Doug Wright, Information Specialist/Consultant, Apex Information
  16. Geoff Zakaib, Executive Director, Open Calgary
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Little Progress in Asian Development Bank Information Policy Proposals

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is currently conducting a consultation on its proposals to reform its right to information policy, the Public Communications Policy 2011. An submission to the consultation by CLD concludes that, after important advances at the ADB in 2005 and 2011, the current Draft Consultation Paper can only be described as disappointing. There are few innovations over 2011 and, in the most problematical area, namely the regime of exceptions, there are even some rollbacks.

Click here for the Comments
Click here for the draft Policy

“The ADB showed important leadership among international financial institutions in the 2005 and 2011 reforms of its information policy”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “If it wants to maintain this tradition, it will need a much bolder vision for the new policy.”

In a disappointing development, the ADB is proposing to replace a limited exception to protect good relations with States and inter-governmental organisations with a rule that gives all third parties a blanket veto over the release of information. Other areas of concern include:

• The lack of any formal commitment to provide assistance to requesters and, instead, a rule that “unreasonable” or “blanket” requests can be rejected.
• No overall time limit for responding to requests.
• Exclusions of whole categories of records rather than protecting interests and other exceptions which do not depend on protecting interests against harm.
• A discretionary and limited rule for disclosing information in the public interest, alongside another discretionary rule for withholding information in the public interest.
• Limited grounds for requesters to lodge appeals.

CLD has called on the ADB to introduce substantial changes to its current draft proposals before finalising the policy.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Canada: Net Value of Access to Information Act Reform Bill: Two Points

Earlier this week, the government tabled a Bill in Parliament to reform Canada’s woefully outdated Access to Information Act. A Note released by CLD today shows that the proposed reforms would only earn Canada an additional two points on the RTI Rating, CLD’s respected methodology for assessing the strength of access to information laws. The Bill only includes one really significant reform, namely granting binding order making powers to the Information Commissioner. On the other hand, it fails to address a number of serious problems in the Act, such as the vastly overbroad regime of exceptions, the broad discretion of public authorities to delay in responding to requests, the absence of any duty for public authorities to document important decision making processes, and the limited scope of coverage of the Act. And in some areas, it even weakens the current rules.

“For the first time in a generation, Canadians have a real opportunity to amend the Access to Information Act”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “The proposed reforms are just not good enough. At this point, we need root and branch reform, not incremental tinkering.”

Click here to read Bill C-58
Click here for CLD’s Note on the Bill
Click here for Canada’s revised RTI Rating score

The government is claiming that it has expanded the scope of the Act to cover the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, and the administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts. But all it has done is formalise in law a number of proactive publication obligations, most of which are already being practised. None of these bodies will be required to respond to requests for information. Expanding the scope of the Act was an election promise of the Liberal party, and the Bill fails to deliver on this. On a more positive note, CLD welcomes the grant of binding order making powers to the Information Commissioner, a significant reform which it has repeatedly recommended.

CLD calls on the Parliament to do its duty and ensure that Canadians finally get the reforms to the Act that they need and deserve. Major amendments should be introduced before the Bill is passed.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Regional Beirut Workshop Agrees to Cooperate on Right to Information

A regional workshop on the right to information held in Beirut from 8-9 June 2017, bringing together participants from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen, and hosted by Social Media Exchange, the Centre for Law and Democracy and International Media Support, has agreed to create a regional network of right to information activists. This commitment was contained in a Workshop Statement adopted by participants.

“The workshop provided an excellent opportunity for activists to discuss challenges with moving forward on the right to information in the region”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “It is very encouraging that it managed to agree a framework for ongoing regional discussions and consultations on this important issue.”

Click here to read the Statement in English
Click here to read the Statement in Arabic

The Statement highlighted the human rights status of the right to information, as well as the fact that only five Arab countries have so far adopted right to information laws and that even in these countries implementation has generally faced headwinds. It called on States to ensure that a strong legal framework for the right to information was in place and then to engage in robust implementation of that framework.

“The commitment that we witnessed in Beirut to promote the right to information and to make it a reality by engaging in collaborative work demonstrates the high value of regional exchanges,” said Virginie Jouan, IMS Sub-Regional Head for Maghreb. “IMS will remain a partner in this participatory process led by rights defenders from the MENA region.”

Importantly, the Statement also included a general commitment by civil society participants to continue to work together to promote the right to information. As part of that, participants specifically committed to, “creating a regional network of civil society and other advocates for the right to information to share ideas and experiences and to promote intra-regional cooperation.”

“The workshop couldn’t have come at a better time for Lebanon, as we have a new access to information law”, said Mohamad Najem, Co-director, SMEX. “The Statement gives us ready-to-tailor messages about the benefits of the right to information and a kind of model framework that we can use to both test the law and monitor implementation.”

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

Virginie Jouan
Sub-Regional Head, Maghreb
International Media Support
Email: vj@mediasupport.org
+45 52 10 78 07
www.mediasupport.org
www.menamedialaw.org
Twitter: @forfreemedia
Facebook: @InternationalMediaSupport

Mohamad Najem
Co-director
SMEX
Mohamad@smex.org
+961 71190310

Blog

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Trinidad and Tobago: Major Problems Remain with Cybercrime Bill

The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is deeply troubled by the government of Trinidad and Tobago’s decision to reintroduce its Cybercrime Bill with only minor amendments to the previous draft. When it was first introduced in May 2015, the Cybercrime Bill was heavily criticised by media and human rights organisations, including CLD, for vague and overbroad content offences which would have prohibited a range of innocuous, normal or even beneficial online activity. Despite some minor revisions, the current version of the Cybercrime Bill still suffers from these problems.

“Overbroad content offences are always illegitimate, but are particularly dangerous online, where many people are still in the process of discovering their voice,” said Michael Karanicolas, Senior Legal Officer at CLD. “The Bill, if passed in its current form, could have a substantial chilling effect on online speech in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Click here for the 2017 Cybercrime Bill
Click here for the 2015 Cybercrime Bill
Click here for CLD’s Note on the 2015 Cybercrime Bill

Some minor improvements have been made in the latest draft, notably the deletion of section 7, which prohibited the illegal interception of information and which duplicated an offence in the existing Interception of Communications Act. However, several other overbroad prohibitions remain, including sections 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 15. In each case, the prohibitions are so broad that they include perfectly legitimate online activity. Furthermore, the Cybercrime Bill creates a presumption of criminality for expressive activities which are undertaken “without lawful excuse or justification”, shifting the onus onto users to demonstrate that their actions are legitimate. This type of reverse onus runs contrary to international freedom of expression standards, which only allow States to prohibit limited and clearly defined conduct. This problem is compounded by the fact that the term “justification” is unduly vague.

Sections 8 and 12 are particularly problematical insofar as they essentially make it illegal for journalists to receive leaked information, including from whistleblowers. Leaks often serve as an information safety valve, performing vital public functions, for example by drawing consumer attention to a defect in a product. Even when it is reasonable to sanction those who breach a computer system to obtain information or share information beyond its authorised recipients, journalists should be allowed to receive and report on the information they receive without fear of retaliation.

A problematical cyberbullying provision in the earlier draft has been removed, but this has been replaced by another problematical provision, section 18, which makes it illegal to use a computer system to communicate with intent to cause harm, including serious emotional distress, to another person. A well-written news article about a war or famine may cause emotional distress. Similarly, an article about corruption would likely inflict harm, emotional and otherwise, on guilty officials. More broadly, international experience suggests that laws which aim to protect people against vaguely defined forms of emotional distress are often abused, for example by politicians to suppress legitimate criticism. Section 16, which prohibits the recording of non-consensual pornography, section 19, which prohibits online extortion and harassment, and existing offences in the Offences Against the Person Act, should give the police adequate tools to combat harmful online speech.

In 2015, when the Cybercrime Bill was first tabled, CLD urged the government of Trinidad and Tobago to revise it substantially before attempting to adopt it. The limited revisions which have been made do not go nearly far enough to resolve the Bill’s major problems. We urge the government to consider major amendments to the Bill, in particular to narrow the scope of prohibited speech so that it only captures inherently harmful conduct, to protect third party recipients of information against any risk of sanction and to remove any offences based on the idea of inflicting emotional distress.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Senior Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
email: michael@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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Interested in an Exciting International Human Rights Career? Come Work With Us!


The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) is seeking a Legal Officer to begin as soon as possible. We are looking for a successful, highly motivated person who will work from Halifax, Canada. The successful applicant will be rewarded with exciting legal work, high level representational opportunities and the chance to travel globally.

The Legal Officer will have a range of responsibilities related to safeguarding human rights, including freedom of expression and the right to information, as part of a small, dynamic human rights organisation with a unique mandate. The position combines legal analysis and top level standard setting research with on-the-ground campaigning across the Global South, in collaboration with a diverse range of activists, partners and subject matter experts. Direct advocacy is a major part of CLD’s work, and the position includes opportunities to engage with policy-makers at the highest level, as well as to dialogue with the world’s foremost experts on human rights. The position includes travel opportunities, as well as representing CLD at various international conferences and meetings. Salary for the position will be competitive and commensurate with experience.

About the Organisation:

CLD is an international human rights organisation based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which provides expert legal services globally on foundational rights for democracy, with a particular emphasis on freedom of expression, freedom of association, the right to information and digital rights. Our major ongoing projects include:
• Supporting Myanmar’s democratic transition, including by fostering the development of a robust and independent media sector and drafting new laws governing broadcasting, digital speech and the press.
• Facilitating public participation in governance in Nepal through the development and enhancement of open data and consultative systems.
• Engaging with multi-stakeholder partnerships such as the Governance Data Alliance and the Open Government Partnership to promote open access to information.
• Expanding the right to information in Pakistan, through direct engagement with provincial governments to assess and improve implementation of key legislation.
• Campaigning against global threats to digital rights, such as mass surveillance, Internet shutdowns and efforts to undermine encryption and digital security.

Essential Qualifications

• A law degree (LL.B or J.D.).
• Significant demonstrable experience of working in the field of human rights, ideally specifically freedom of expression or the right to information.
• Knowledge of human rights law, particularly freedom of expression and the right to information, and awareness of mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
• Excellent written and spoken fluency in English, including an ability to draft complex legal and policy documents for a high level audience, as well as clear and concise position statements for general public consumption.
• Strong analytical and research skills, including the ability to assess legislation or policies against international human rights standards.
• Strong public speaking skills, including being comfortable addressing large audiences.
• The ability to travel internationally, sometimes for two to three weeks at a time.
• Some international experience, preferably in the Global South.
• A keen interest in and openness to other cultures, and an ability to collaborate with people from a range of cultural, religious, social and educational backgrounds.
• Ability to work effectively, often under pressure, to tight and demanding deadlines.
• Strong interpersonal skills, and comfort managing small teams.

Preferred Qualifications

• An advanced degree in law or another field relevant to our practice area (journalism, international development studies, etc.)
• 3-5 years of experience working or volunteering in the human rights field.
• Some experience having lived or worked in the Global South.
• Some basic accounting skills, such as how to develop and administer budgets.
• Some experience developing grant and funding proposals, or experience establishing and maintaining relations with international donors.
• An understanding of legal and technical issues relating to digital speech, such as net neutrality, Internet shutdowns, etc.
• The ability to work in Canada would be preferred, though we are happy to receive international applicants.
• Knowledge of additional languages, in particular Spanish or Arabic.

Those interested in applying should send a copy of their CV, cover letter and law school transcripts to Toby Mendel at info@law-democracy.org, by 23 June 2017.

The Centre for Law and Democracy is committed to diversity and is an equal opportunity employer. We value and encourage applicants for all positions without regard to race, colour, religion, gender, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other legally protected status. This commitment applies with regard to all aspects of one’s employment, including hiring, transfer, promotion, compensation, eligibility for benefits, and termination.

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Nova Scotia: Still Waiting for Promised Right to Information Reform

Four years ago, the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) wrote to the three major political parties in Nova Scotia, calling on them to promise that, if elected, they would enact much needed improvements to Nova Scotia’s outdated Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPOP). The Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties both formally promised to introduce these reforms, while the New Democratic Party refused to do so.

In the four years since then, major reforms have been passed in Newfoundland and Labrador, transforming the province’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act into the best in the country and indeed one of the best in the world. The federal government has also introduced some improvements to the Access to Information Act, and committed to major reforms by end 2018, albeit a delay from earlier promises to introduce reforms by winter 2017.

In contrast, despite a personal campaign promise from Stephen McNeil and his subsequent commitment to make Nova Scotia “the most open and transparent province in Canada”, nothing has been done. Indeed, since his election, Premier McNeil has made troubling statements suggesting hostility to openness, most notably his unapologetic admission, in September 2016, that he deliberately uses phones to avoid accountability under FOIPOP. We also note that the Progressive Conservative party has done little to promote FOIPOP reform despite its promises and the NDP party has done even less.

Enough is enough. The reforms that Stephen McNeil promised in 2013 – namely to grant Nova Scotia’s Information and Privacy Commissioner order-making power, to create binding time limits for responding to information requests and to limit claims of solicitor-client confidentiality by government lawyers – were hardly revolutionary or groundbreaking. On the contrary, they merely reflect the existing state of affairs in progressive systems around the world. Information and Privacy Commissioners already have order making power in six provinces, and most countries have clear and binding timelines for responding to requests, including many emerging democracies which lack the resources and information management capacity that Canada has.

We are deeply disappointed that Stephen McNeil failed to fulfil a core campaign promise that he made to the people of Nova Scotia in 2013. However, we still hold out hope that the next government will embrace this vital democratic right. We call on the leaders of all three major political parties to make a firm commitment to begin a robust review of the FOIPOP within one year of the election and to reform and modernise the law in line with international standards. The people of Nova Scotia deserve an accountable and open government. We hope that this election might include honest promises from the competing parties to deliver this to us.

For further information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Senior Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
email: michael@law-democracy.org
tel: +1 902 448-5290
www.law-democracy.org
Twitter: @law_democracy

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UNESCO, National Library and CLD host networking event for Jordanian information officers

Information officers from government ministries and public bodies in Jordan met today at the National Library in a networking event to foster debate around creating a “community of practice” for these officers. Under the patronage of HE Dr. Mohammed Al Momani, Minister of State for Media Affairs and government spokesperson, the networking event was a follow-up to the successful trainings on the implementation of the Access to Information (ATI) Law organised by UNESCO Amman Office, Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) and Department of the National Library as part of the EU funded and UNESCO implemented “Support to Media in Jordan” Project.

Click here for the Arabic version of this Press Release
Click here for a Background Document on Professional Networks

The networking event was meant to serve as a forum for discussion and information sharing among information officers. Mr. Mohammed Abbadi, Information Commissioner and Director General of the Department of the National Library, reiterated that the Department was very happy to cooperate with UNESCO Amman Office and CLD in increasing awareness around the Access to Information Law, and to facilitate the event.

“Access to information is central to the 2030 Agenda and the promotion of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Ms. Costanza Farina, Representative of UNESCO in Jordan at the event. “The right to access to information is intrinsically linked to democracy, the rule of law and good governance and therefore development, peace and stability. This is the reason why UNESCO is committed to support initiatives, like today’s networking event, that empower public bodies to implement the Access to Information Law properly and in full,” she added.

In a statement to UNESCO, HE Dr. Mohammad Momani confirmed the strong commitment of the government to provide a proper environment that enables the implementation of the ATI Law. This comes as part of the government’s work to advance freedoms in the country, and protect the rights of citizens and society inline with international examples and models.

“Freedom of expression and access to information are essential foundations of the European Union. In Jordan, we believe that effective implementation of the Access to Information Law will allow citizens to participate in key decisions that affect their lives. We are pleased to be supporting this initiative, and the Support to Media in Jordan project, to assist Jordanian information officials to share experiences and improve the flow of information in Jordan,” said Mr. Andrea Fontana, EU Ambassador to Jordan, in a statement to UNESCO.

The series of trainings on ATI implementation, which took place between January and March 2017, successfully reached out to all 60 information officials in every government Ministry and other public bodies in Jordan, as well as several journalists and local trainers from non-governmental organisations and other bodies who will be able to carry on future training. As part of the same project, UNESCO and CLD developed an ATI Training Manual, which is available in Arabic and English. On 17 May, UNESCO also organised a refresher training session for trainers to further elaborate on specific issues such as handling exceptions in the Law and dealing with information requests.

A team of international experts and local trainers ran the training workshops, during which the idea of establishing a network among trained information officers emerged.

“A professional network for information officers can provide a range of important benefits, including boosting common standards for implementation, providing opportunities for professional development and raising the profile of the right to information,” said Michael Karanicolas, Senior Legal Officer of CLD. “We are pleased that our programme in Jordan provided an opportunity to bring these specialists together, and look forward to working with them to continue to boost this important human right.”

Today’s event was part of UNESCO’s “Support to Media in Jordan” project, a comprehensive project aimed at supporting Jordan’s efforts in advancing the Jordanian media to further increase its freedom, independence and professionalism. The three-year project (2014 – 2017) is generously funded by the European Union and implemented by the UNESCO Amman office in close collaboration with the Minister of State for Media Affairs and the media community in Jordan.

For more information, please contact:

Michael Karanicolas
Senior Legal Officer
Centre for Law and Democracy
michael@law-democracy.org
Tel.: +1 902-448-5290
@Law_Democracy

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Canada: Civil Society Calls for Access to Information Law Reform

Today, over 50 Canadian civil society organisations and citizens sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to renew the commitment of his government to reform Canada’s woefully outdated Access to Information Act. Notwithstanding strong pledges to amend the Act during the election campaign and afterwards, including in its 2016-2018 Open Government Partnership (OGP) action plan, the government announced two weeks ago that it was delaying the promised reforms.

Click here for the Letter

“The need for reform of the Act is clear and there have been broad debates and consultations about this for years”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “It is now time to move forward decisively with concrete changes to the Act rather than making vague claims about needing more time.”

Canada languishes at 49th place out of 111 countries on the RTI Rating, the leading global methodology for assessing the strength of access to information or right to information laws. For decades, successive Information Commissioners, Parliamentary committees, civil society actors and independent experts have been calling for reform of the Act, while governments have refused to move forward on this important democratic issue. The commitment of the Trudeau government to reform the Act was, as a result, warmly welcomed by many across the country.

The letter calls on the government to make a clear and formal commitment to move forward with the reform process and to pass amendments at the very latest by the end of 2018.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Mongolia: Draft Broadcasting Law Analysed

After many years of debate and numerous versions, the government of Mongolia has finally placed a draft Broadcasting Law before parliament. The Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) welcomes this much needed initiative which provides an opportunity to set clear rules for the licensing of broadcasters, to create an independent regulatory body, to promote diversity in the airwaves and to establish a fair complaints system. While the draft Law achieves some of these goals, an Analysis released today by CLD shows that major revisions are still needed.

“Having worked on broadcast law reform in Mongolia for many years, I have to say that I am disappointed that the draft Broadcasting Law does not do more to address the needs”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “It completely fails to transform the regulator into an independent body and does not mention community broadcasting even once.”

Click here for Analysis of the Draft Broadcasting Law
Click here for the Mongolian Draft Law

In addition to these problems, the Analysis highlights the following needs:
• A robustly independent body should be tasked with running the Development Fund for National Broadcasting, which will be used to promote diverse, quality content.
• Far more detailed rules on the licensing process, which should be required to be fair, transparent and participatory, should be included in the law.
• Instead of providing directly for content rules linked to harsh sanctions, the law should establish a proper complaints system, which includes the development of a code of conduct and rules for processing complaints.
• The whole system of sanctions should be revised and replaced with a set of graduated measures that allow for proportionate responses to breaches.

CLD calls on the government and parliament of Mongolia to take the necessary steps to revise the draft Law substantially to bring it into line with international standards.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Gulf Between Civil-Common Law Countries on Openness of Court Decisions

There is a huge gulf between civil and common law countries on openness around court decisions, according to research conducted recently by the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD). Working with its partner, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), based in the country of Georgia, CLD has noted that while civil law jurisdictions often refuse to provide the names of parties to cases, on the grounds that this is a breach of their privacy, in common law countries the practice is normally the reverse.

“The European Court of Human Rights has never tackled this issue properly”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “It thus remains an area of lack of clarity for many countries, especially those which are trying to bring themselves into line with European standards.”

CLD has prepared a paper on this issue, highlighting the contradictions and analysing the issue from a human rights perspective. The paper, which is cast as an initial foray into this complex issue, notes the overriding need to resolve the conflict between privacy and freedom of expression (and the included right to information) in this area. It also highlights the apparent contradiction between the strongly established principle of open justice and the idea of excluding names from cases, although it recognises that special considerations may be needed to take into account online distribution of cases. At a minimum, some sort of public interest balancing should be used to determine whether names remain on cases as they are distributed publicly.

Click here for the full paper. CLD welcomes comments and feedback on its paper.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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2017 Joint Declaration by Special Rapporteurs on “Fake News”

Today, in Vienna, the four specialised mandates tasked with promoting and protecting freedom of expression at the UN, OAS, OSCE and African Commission launched their 19th annual statement, the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda. The Joint Declaration, which was drafted with the assistance of the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD), addresses the difficult issue of how best to respond to the growing threat of disinformation, whether coming from governments, officials, the legacy media or social media.

Click here for Joint Declaration in Russian
Click here for Joint Declaration in English
Click here for Joint Declaration in Arabic
Click here for Joint Declaration in French

“The Joint Declaration clearly notes that it is illegitimate for State actors to disseminate information which they know to be false”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “But blanket rules making it a crime for anyone to make a false statement are also not the answer.”

Instead of criminal prohibitions or other control-oriented measures, such as blocking websites or jamming broadcasting signals, the Joint Declaration calls on States to respond to disinformation and propaganda in the following ways:
• Promoting diverse and credible sources of news through both the legacy media and social media.
• Protecting intermediaries from liability for third party content.
• Promoting media and digital literacy.
• Disseminating reliable, trustworthy information themselves about matters of public interest.

The Joint Declaration also calls on intermediaries to limit any policies on content restrictions that go beyond what is legally required to measures that are based on “objectively justifiable criteria”, to ensure that any such policies are fully transparent in nature, and to apply those policies in a manner that respects basic due process guarantees. Finally, The Joint Declaration calls on the media to promote accuracy in the news through effective systems of self-regulation.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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Myanmar: Workshop on Key Freedom of Expression Issues

On 14 February 2017, UNESCO and the Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) held a full-day workshop in the capital of Myanmar, Nay Pyi Taw, for officials from the Government, military and both upper and lower houses of Parliament (Pyithu Hluttaw and Amyotha Hluttaw), as well as the Parliamentary support body, the Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues. The focus of the workshop was on international standards relating to the right to information and broadcasting.

“It is important that key official stakeholders, and especially parliamentary bodies, have a good understanding of human rights standards in these areas”, said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of CLD. “We are hopeful that amendments to the Broadcasting Law and a draft right to information law will come before Parliament soon.”

“UNESCO has been working on these issues with a range of local stakeholders since 2012”, said Min Jeong Kim, Head of Office, UNESCO Myanmar. “Raising awareness about international standards in these areas is a core area of engagement for UNESCO, and we hope to be doing more of this in future.”

Discussions about a right to information law have been ongoing in Myanmar for some time now, including a debate on the matter before the Commission for the Assessment of Legal Affairs and Special Issues which also took place on 14 February, and which Mendel also attended. A strong Broadcasting Law was adopted in August 2105 but implementation has been stymied by the fact that the National Broadcasting Council, the main regulatory body, was not appointed within the six months envisaged in the Law, in part due to the change of government. Technical amendments to the Law are now needed to extend the six months and allow for the appointment of the Council.

For further information, please contact:

Toby Mendel
Executive Director
Centre for Law and Democracy
Email: toby@law-democracy.org
+1 902 431-3688
www.law-democracy.org
twitter: @law_democracy

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