(December 7, 2011) Probe International filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner of Canada following Export Development Canada’s response to our Access to Information request for details of its financing for a Canadian-owned electric utility in Chile. The Information Commissioner’s office investigated the matter and found that, due to the many exemptions in the Access to Information Act, EDC is able to withhold documents it generates and receives in the course of its business.
Following EDC’s response to our Access to Information request, Probe International filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner of Canada. The Information Commissioner’s Office investigated the matter and found that, due to the many exemptions in the Access to Information Act, EDC is able to keep documents it generates and receives in the course of its operations under wraps.
The Access to Information Act grants any Canadian citizen the right to request, and be given, “any record under the control of a government institution” (section 4). Though the Federal Accountability Act made EDC subject to the Access to Information Act on September 1, 2007, EDC has been granted so many exemptions that it is virtually exempt from the Access to Information Act, making a mockery of the law and the rights of Canadian taxpayers. See the Office of the Information Commissioner’s response explaining the exemptions that allow EDC to stop Canadian citizens from having access to its information.
February 27, 2009
Canada’s official export credit agency, Export Development Canada, is coming under fire for financing investments in Chile’s controversial electricity sector, and particularly for its role in a mega-dam scheme in that country’s environmentally fragile Patagonia region. Now, documents obtained by Probe International under the Access to Information Act reveal that EDC is using loopholes built into the Act to keep the public in the dark about its involvement in Chile.
The controversial scheme in the southern part of Chile calls for five dams to be built on rivers fed by two massive ice fields in one of the most environmentally unique and untouched wilderness areas of the world. Some 5,000 hectares of rare temperate and cold rainforest, parcels of Patagonia’s best ranching lands, and the habitat of highly endangered species are threatened [PDFver here] by the scheme.
EDC is financing Canadian exports to the electricity company, but it has also financed the purchase of Chile’s transmission utility, known as Transelec, by a consortium of Canadian private and public sector investors. To get the power from the remote dams to markets in the north, the Canadian-owned Transelec would need to build the world’s longest transmission corridor, with 5,000 high-voltage towers and lines running through seismically active zones, over fjords, through volcanic areas, and affecting 14 national parks and protected reserves. Concerns abound that the transmission corridor will do more environmental harm than the dams themselves.
Little mention of this threat or of any aspect of the project is revealed in the documents disclosed to Probe International last week. Of over 2,500 pages reviewed under the request, only 34 were released and even those were so heavily expunged they left “nothing useful to inform the public about EDC’s use of the crown’s credit card in ways that could harm Chile’s environment,” says Probe International Executive Director, Patricia Adams.
Added to this uniquely Canadian controversy, is the bizarre twist that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board is one of the investors in Transelec [PDFver here] , making every working Canadian an unwitting party to this environmentally controversial scheme. Those in British Columbia are doubly invested as the BC Investment Management Corporation is also a part-owner of Transelec. The lead investor of this consortium is Brookfield Asset Management Inc.
EDC became subject to the Access to Information Act in 2007. But critics, like the Halifax Initiative, say it doesn’t count for much because statutory provisions in the Export Development Act and the Access to Information Act allow EDC to “indiscriminately characterize all information received by EDC from its clients as confidential.”
EDC’s response to Probe International’s Access request proves that point, says Patricia Adams, who notes that approximately half of all the missing documents were severed under these statutory provisions. “EDC is using the Access to Information Act to shield its activities from public scrutiny, and to evade accountability for the harm it causes,” she says, adding that “Canadians should question why they are made to guarantee a crown agency that so boldly flouts the principles of disclosure and transparency.”
Read more on EDC’s record:
1) June 20 2006 – Export credit debt prevention – Statement by Ms. Adams, Executive Director of Probe International, to the European Commission Conference on Export Credit Agencies and Sustainable Development
2) June 14 2005 – Export Development Canada keeps taxpayers in the dark, says Rosen and Associated Ltd.
3) Jan 1 2002 – EDC Exposed! Probe International’s Inventory of EDC-Supported Projects
4) Nov 21 2001 – Statement by Ms. Adams, Executive Director of Probe International, on Bill C-31 to the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce
5) Nov 20 2001 – Jail the critics - a National Post article on Bill C-31 by Richard C. Owens
6) June 29 2001 – EDC Secrecy Threatens Canadian Democracy
7) Aug 28 2000 – EDC preempts court decisions, finances second Biobo dam in Chile
8) May 25 2000 – Secret of EDC’s ‘success’: Taxpayers’ money – a National Post article by Patricia Adams
9) July 6 2000 - EDC tempts a trade war
10) Nov 18 1999 – EDC is buying off its opponents Public-private collusion to create export cartel – a National Post article by Patricia Adams
11) March 1 1999 - EDC’s Quebec tilt hardly ‘commercial’ - a Financial Post article by Patricia Adams
12) April 2 1997 – Patronage Canada