Greens challenge legality of library destruction

In her first question of 2014 in Question Period, Elizabeth May, leader for the Green Party and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, today challenged the government over the legality of its recent library closures and culling of materials at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other departments throughout the Govt of Canada.

Referencing provisions of the Library and Archives of Canada Act, Ms. May cautioned that the department’s recent initiative to close and consolidate libraries and dispose of library materials –including books, departmental reports, research documents and maps – was illegal if the department acted independently of the Librarian and Archivist of Canada.

Section 16 of the Library and Archives Canada Act states that: “Despite the Surplus Crown Assets Act, all publications that have become surplus to the requirements of any government institution shall be placed in the care or control of the Librarian and Archivist.” Similarly, subsection 12 (1) states that “no government or ministerial record, whether or not it is surplus property of a government institution, shall be disposed of, including by being destroyed, without the written consent of the Librarian and Archivist or of a person to whom the Librarian and Archivist has, in writing, delegated the power to give such consents.”

“Having reviewed the Library and Archives Act, and read reports of material being taken to dumpsters, or removed by people either to salvage or loot, it seems clear no effort was taken to protect the documentary heritage of Canada,” said Ms May, “I have spoken to the current interim Librarian and Archivist of Canada and he confirms that he was not involved in the process. Prima facie, it appears the disposition of records and publications was illegal.”

Although the Department of Fisheries and Oceans states that the purpose of its Library Consolidation Initiative is to create greater public access to information online through ‘digitization,’ it is unclear what, if any, digitization has taken place to date. A secret departmental document obtained by Postmedia refers to ‘culling materials’ as ‘the main activities’ of the consolidation initiative, showing that digitization and greater public access to material were not the rationale for the consolidation.