Mandate letters: Supreme Court to say today if it will hear Ontario’s appeal

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in late January that Premier Doug Ford had an obligation to release the mandate letters of his 23 cabinet ministers.

Mandate letters are letters in which the premier of the province describes his expectations of each of his ministers when they take office.

Men and women seated in two rows for a group photo

Members of Doug Ford’s Cabinet pose with Ontario Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

Photo: The Canadian Press/Mark Blinch

They are usually made public by governments across the country. CBC has been trying since the summer of 2018 to obtain copies of the 23 letters in question under the Access to Information Act.

In a split two-to-one judgment, the province’s highest court upheld a lower court’s ruling against the Conservatives.

Judge Lorne Sossin of the Court of Appeal wrote on this subject that these letters represented the culmination of the deliberative process.

The facade of the Court of Appeal for Ontario.

The Ontario Court of Appeal in downtown Toronto.


While highlighting the decisions the Prime Minister ultimately made, these documents do not shed light on the process that was used to make those decisions or the alternatives that were discarded along the way.reads the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Accordingly, they do not threaten to disclose the cabinet’s deliberative process or the formulation of cabinet policies.concludes Judge Sossin.

The Information Commissioner of Ontario unsuccessfully ordered the government to release such documents in 2019, which led to a legal challenge in the Divisional Court and then in the Court of Appeal.

Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario Brian Beamish (on file)

Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario Brian Beamish (on file).

Photo: Radio-Canada / Keith Whalen

In his application to the Supreme Court, the Attorney General of the province explained that it is essential to preserve the secrecy of the work of the cabinet which is composed of 23 ministers.

In court documents, the province says both Ontario courts erred in law in interpreting the commissioner’s decision.

Attorney General Doug Downey also argues that such documents should not be subject to the Access to Information Act, because they reflect confidential cabinet deliberations and there are exemptions to the Act. on access to information.

A man at a press conference in front of flags

Doug Downey is the Attorney General of Ontario.

Photo: Legislative Assembly of Ontario

This is the first time in Canada that the courts have considered the question surrounding the obligation to make public the letters of a government’s mandate.

In its request, the Ford government makes mention of it, explaining that [son] appeal will be the first opportunity for this Honorable Court to address the scope of an exemption related to cabinet documents in a provincial access to information law.

If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, however, it is unlikely to do so before the June 2 general election in Ontario.

Otherwise, the Ford government will have no choice but to comply with the decision of the province’s Court of Appeal. The content of the letters can therefore be known before the general ballot scheduled in 15 days.

Another decision expected

The Supreme Court of Canada must also announce Thursday morning if it intends to hear another litigation in which Doug Ford is engaged.

This is the appeal request from former Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair.

Brad Blair is seated on a desk, he looks at a journalist in front of him.

Former Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Commissioner Brad Blair

Photo: The Canadian Press/Chris Young

Mr Blair lost his appeal last fall in the Taverner case. He was appealing the verdict of a lower court, which in January 2021 dismissed his $5 million lawsuit against Mr Ford for defamatory remarks.

He claimed the sitting premier tarnished his reputation in 2018 when he falsely claimed he violated Ontario’s Police Services Act by disclosing confidential information about the provincial police appointment process. .

Mr. Ford made such comments after Mr. Blair went to court unsuccessfully to compel the Ontario Ombudsman to investigate the appointment of Ron Taverner as head of the POP.

Photo of the two men.

Doug Ford with Ron Taverner at a gala in 2016.

Photo: Facebook / Reena Foundation

In the controversy, Ron Taverner, a close friend of Doug Ford, had finally refused the post of commissioner of the POP and former Deputy Commissioner Blair was fired by the Conservative government at the turn of 2018-19.

If the highest court in the land refuses to hear him, Mr. Blair will have exhausted all his legal remedies in the fight he has been waging for six years against Doug Ford.

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