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Ontario fights release of letters

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TORONTO—Ontario's information and privacy commissioner says the government is going to court to prevent the release of Premier Doug Ford's mandate letters to his cabinet ministers, which outline their key priorities.

Former premier Kathleen Wynne began making those documents public in 2014, but the current government is fighting an order from the commissioner to release them.

The government denied a freedom of information request for the mandate letters, saying they are cabinet documents and therefore automatically exempt from disclosure.

But information and privacy commissioner Brian Beamish said yesterday that the documents don't actually reveal any government deliberations, the substance of any meetings, discussions or options considered by the premier's office.

“In this case, the mandate letters do not qualify for exemption as cabinet documents,” Beamish said in a statement.

“I ordered their release because Ontarians have a right to know what the government's policy priorities are.”

He ordered the government to disclose the letters by Aug. 16, but instead it has filed an application for judicial review of the order in Divisional Court.

Ford's spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said the premier's office disagrees with Beamish's ruling.

“Our position is that the premier's mandate letters reflect the deliberations of cabinet and are exempt from disclosure,” she said in a statement.

NDP legislator Taras Natyshak slammed the government for challenging the commissioner's ruling, adding that the mandate letters should be public.

“Doug Ford is going to mats to keep his schemes hidden away in back rooms,” he said.

“If there was nothing wrong with the plans he ordered his cabinet ministers to execute, he wouldn't be fighting with the Information and Privacy Commissioner to keep them secret.”

Releasing mandate letters is not an uncommon practice, with a number of provincial governments making the move in recent years including British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted to make the documents for his cabinet public in 2015.

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