Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Editorial tribute to Gary Dickson: He will be a tough act to follow

The Regina Leader Post has a very fitting tribute to Gary Dickson, who is retiring as Information and Privacy Commissioner of Saskatchewan:

Editorial: Dickson will be a tough act to follow

Gary Dickson has done fine job as privacy watchdog


Gary Dickson announced last week that he would be resigning from his post as Saskatchewan’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

Gary Dickson once described his role as "the umpire of the information age" and there's no doubt he's been a game changer as Saskatchewan's information and privacy commissioner.

Appointed in 2003 as the first full-time holder of the office, Dickson has significantly raised the profile of the public's right to privacy when it comes to the personal information held by government ministries and health agencies, and also a person's right to see their personal files and other information on how government works..

Sadly, he's chosen to leave at the end of this month following what he calls "a fascinating 10 years" in the job.

"Fascinating" might not be the word some in the corridors of power would use to describe Dickson's two terms of office. He's been a tenacious critic of politicians, bureaucrats and health officials in countless investigations that have exposed careless use of personal information, ignorance of privacy and access laws and a pitiful lack of consequences when things go wrong:

"Those arbitration decisions signal that if you have breached the privacy of a patient in Saskatchewan it's just no big deal. You can expect little more than the proverbial slap on the wrist." - Dickson's 2010 verdict on arbitration panels overturning dismissal of staff for privacy breaches.

"What we have here is a cascading series of bad decisions ... that ultimately culminated in the tossing of all of this patient information into the recycling bin." - From Dickson's damning 2011 report on how 2,682 patient files from a medical clinic wound up in a south Regina dumpster.

"You should never send anything by email - and I'm not talking about a closed email system within an organization, but a general email - that you wouldn't be prepared to see on an electronic billboard on Victoria Avenue." - Dickson's 2010 comment after the psychiatric assessment of an offender was emailed in error to a member of the public.

"When it comes to access and privacy, Saskatchewan is still a have-not province." - From Dickson's 2012-13 annual report criticizing successive governments for failing to update privacy and access laws.

A lawyer, past president of the Alberta Civil Liberties Association and a former Alberta Liberal MLA, Dickson served for nine years on the Alberta committee overseeing that province's information and privacy commissioner. A non-partisan committee selected him for the Saskatchewan post from a field of 52 candidates in 2003.

Dickson leaves some very big shoes to fill. The Saskatchewan Party government could make his successor's job easier by a) bringing privacy and access legislation up to the standards of other provinces and b) adding the fourth investigator Dickson has been requesting for the past six years.

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