CORNER BROOK Peter McBreairty figures if provincial access to information legislation was five years ago what government wants it to look like now, he would not be able to fully pursue the injustice he feels has been done to him.
The Corner Brook man has been embroiled in a prolonged legal battle with his former employer, the College of the North Atlantic, ever since he was dismissed as director of student services at the school's campus in Qatar in 2003.
The matter, which has been before the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador on numerous occasions and may still go to trial, has hinged largely on McBreairty filing a series of requests for access to information. His case has been the subject of several reviews by the province's Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
McBreairty, who claims he was wrongfully dismissed, has been following the unfolding events in the House of Assembly this week as provincial politicians have been engaged in a non-stop debate over proposed changes to the legislation since Monday afternoon. The all-day, all-night filibustering was expected to continue until today.
"If this law goes through, it is seriously going to impede my case," McBreairty said Wednesday, 48 hours into the debate. "If these changes were in effect five years ago, I wouldn't have had enough information to go to court."
One change the government wants to make is to allow the head of a public entity the right to disregard requests that are repetitive and systematic in nature. That, said McBreairty, is exactly how he was able to discover much of the information about how the college allegedly handled his case.
"I've been systematic," he said "I had to be. I would get one bit of information that would lead to questions about something else I never knew before."
The province has said many requests that have been processed have been "frivolous or vexatious" and a waste of the taxpayer's dollar .
McBreairty said his requests are not innocuous. They have to do with his livelihood.
He added that other requests, such as those that led to the discovery of hazards with the bridge in Placentia recently, can be a matter of public safety.
He appreciates there have to be limits with regard to what information can be provided without jeopardizing personal privacy, the trade secrets of a business and so on. But, McBreairty said, the amended legislation could mean applicants will have to fight more battles in court.
Fighting a public body in court can be stressful and costly and not a palatable option for people who he said should be able to access public information more easily.
"I think government would be putting up a monstrous roadblock with this legislation," said McBreairty. "It's like government saying 'let them eat cake and go to court' ... It would give public bodies unfettered leeway in hiding information."