Adjournment Proceedings – Library and Archives Canada

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to pursue a question that I first asked in the House of Commons a few weeks ago, dealing with the legality of the current administration’s decision to shut down libraries and dispense with materials.

The stories in the media were deeply disturbing. We heard about the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, for example. These were Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries in particular that attracted a certain amount of media attention, and certainly public outrage and scientists expressing concern.

The shutting down of these libraries was explained on government websites as having to do with the digitalization of material so that we could enter a modern age and not have to rely on papers and books and documents and so on, but could instead go online and look things up. That did not excite a lot of protest.

It was not until the actual physical dismantling of these libraries occurred that the libraries of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were shrunk across Canada and, essentially, according to eyewitness reports, materials from collections were taken to dumpsters and people who had books out on loan were not asked to return them but just held onto them. People who were concerned with the loss of Department of Fisheries and Oceans materials showed up at, say, the Freshwater Institute and helped themselves either to salvage the materials or to benefit from the fact these were available for free.

Someone I know quite well who works with a Manitoba NGO called Manitoba Wildlands saw a private contractor, who does a lot of work for Manitoba Hydro, help himself to large volumes of material that had been put together on behalf of the people of Canada, paid for by the taxpayers of Canada, and then taken into private hands as the libraries were essentially looted before being dismantled.

Those stories prompted my interest. I had certainly been concerned. I knew that the libraries for the Canadian Forest Service had been dismantled. I knew from a retired forester at the time who was concerned that books were disappearing from a library in Victoria. People were very worried about this.

It occurred to me, as I heard of these accumulated stories of libraries being dismantled that this could not be legal. This was material put together for the people of Canada and paid for by the people of Canada.

So I did some research, and the question I asked in the House dealt with the fact that under the Library and Archives of Canada Act there is a specific set of procedures that must be followed. If the materials count as public records, which could certainly have applied to the material in DFO libraries, for instance raw data and things that are not published in multiple copies, those cannot be destroyed without the written consent of the Librarian and Archivist of Canada. Regarding documents that are called “publications”, with multiple copies, the act is very clear: even if the material is surplus to need, the Library and Archivist must take care and control of that material and dispense with it carefully.

As a matter of fact, the more I looked into it I saw that not only was the Library and Archives Act of Canada being violated in the way these materials were being dealt with, so was the Surplus Crown Assets Act.

I called the current acting Librarian and Archivist of Canada and he let me know by phone that he had not provided a single written consent to the destruction of records. So if there were any records destroyed, that was illegal. And in terms of the care and control of materials, the eyewitness reports suggest that the care and control of materials was simply ignored on the assumption that the government of the day had the power to do away with the documentary heritage of this country. That is what the act calls it, “the documentary heritage”.

I maintain it is illegal. I would like a straight answer from the government.

Kellie Leitch: Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to be here this evening. It has been a little while since I have been here for a late show.

I want to be very clear. What the member opposite has stated is absolutely false. It is concerning to me because, to the credit of public servants across the country, they take great care of all the documents that are made available not only to those of us in the House of Commons but also to the Canadian public.

The original materials have been and will be preserved, to answer one of the questions the member opposite had.

As for duplicate materials, some may be made available to the public; others have been disposed of in an environmentally conscious manner, as has been outlined previously in this place.

Information that was available in a library continues to be available online. This is a digital age. We are delighted that the archives and the libraries across the country have been able to digitize many materials so that we have those available to Canadians. And these are actually more accessible to Canadians.

Having grown up in northern Canada, coming to a national archive or to a library in a large central location was something that was unheard of to me. In Fort McMurray, Alberta, there are now these great things called “computers”, and I can look up anything online anywhere in the country, which is fabulous.

So I am delighted that we now have more Canadians and more individuals who have access to this information and in a responsible way, while ensuring that we are taking care of taxpayer dollars.

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I am happy as well to see my friend the hon. minister back at the late show. Unfortunately, I am not satisfied with the answer received yet again tonight.

Let me just, for the edification of the chamber, read section 16 of the Library and Archives of Canada Act which states:

Despite the Surplus Crown Assets Act, all publications that have become surplus to the requirements of any government institution shall—

It is not “may”, but “shall” mandatorily.

—be placed in the care or control of the Librarian and Archivist.

There is no evidence based on the eyewitness accounts of the destruction of these libraries that there was any inventory properly taken. Now many of the materials, by the way, coincidentally, have been shipped to the Institute for Ocean Sciences, which is in my riding on West Saanich Road, but they are not yet available. They are still sort of in sarcophagi.

We do not know what was destroyed. There is a mandatory duty on every government to protect the documentary heritage of Canadians. In this case it was not done.

Kellie Leitch: Mr. Speaker, as I said before, the accusations are false. Original documents have and will be preserved.