Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Lid on Cabinet Secrets Quietly Tightened under New Federal Policy

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Lid on Cabinet Secrets Quietly Tightened under New Federal Policy

Article excerpt

New policy tightens lid on cabinet secrets

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OTTAWA - The Conservative government has quietly tightened the lid on federal cabinet secrets in an effort to prevent compromising leaks.

A revised policy on the security of so-called cabinet confidences requires all possible breaches -- "however slight" -- to be immediately reported to the Prime Minister's Office or officials in the Privy Council Office, the government's bureaucratic nerve centre.

"This includes unauthorized disclosure, loss, theft, transmission and discussion over non-secure channels, unaccounted documents or other actual or suspected compromises."

In order to avoid such incidents, documents known to contain cabinet secrets must now be stamped "Confidences of the Queen's Privy Council."

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the new policy, along with a memo explaining the changes, under the Access to Information Act.

In addition, the Privy Council Office approved a complementary plan to digitize its archive of cabinet documents to allow for storage of the paper originals off-site in a secure, climate-controlled facility -- a bid to avoid the sort of damage caused by a major flood in 2001.

The confidentiality of cabinet proceedings -- the political forum in which ministers make government decisions -- is a long-standing constitutional convention and the cornerstone of the Westminster style of government, notes the new security policy, adopted last July. It replaced one in effect since 2007.

The government's original aim was to update the policy in 2012 to address events that are blacked out of the heavily censored explanatory memo of April 2014 to Wayne Wouters, then the Privy Council clerk.

Raymond Rivet, a Privy Council Office spokesman, would not elaborate, saying only that "PCO regularly reviews its security policies and strives to update them approximately every five years. …

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