Federal bureaucrats warned Irving Shipbuilding about journalist’s questions — generating 200 pages of documents along the way

Royal Canadian Sea Cadets wait for the start of the naming ceremony for Canada’s lead Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship, the future HMCS Harry DeWolf, at Halifax Shipyard in Halifax on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018

A journalist’s question about a potential problem with the Royal Canadian Navy’s new Arctic patrol ships prompted federal bureaucrats to generate more than 200 pages of documents as they warned Irving Shipbuilding about the news outlet’s interest in the multibillion dollar program.

But Public Services and Procurement Canada has ignored its requirement under the Access to Information Act to release those records within the stipulated 30 days, and is now in violation of the law.

The department told Postmedia it doesn’t know when it will release the documents or how much of their contents will be censored.

The access law allows any individual to file a request for federal records in exchange for a $5 fee. The Liberal government campaigned on making government open and transparent.

This request, which the department received in early April, was sent after Procurement Canada acknowledged it had alerted Irving that a Postmedia journalist had asked the department questions about potential issues with welds on the new Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships being built by the firm. Procurement Canada bureaucrats also provided the journalist’s private information to Irving officials. They never did answer the questions.

Instead, shortly after, Irving threatened to sue Postmedia if it published any article indicating that there were significant problems with the welds

Last week, the office of Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains alerted Irving that Globe and Mail journalists had asked that department whether an investment in an Alberta french fry plant counted toward the industrial benefits requirements established under the Arctic ship program. (Under the government’s industrial and technological benefits policy, the prime contractors on military procurement projects are required to do work in Canada equal to 100 per cent of the value of the contract they receive.) As a result the newspaper received a letter from an Irving lawyer threatening legal action if the article contained any allegations of improper conduct.

Asked why the Liberal government is not releasing the material Postmedia requested under the access law, Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office and the department suggested Monday the news outlet should contact Procurement Canada’s access to information branch — the same branch that had already informed Postmedia it didn’t know when the documents would be released.

Postmedia also asked Qualtrough’s office how many other times since Oct. 30 2015 had the department or minister’s office shared the private information or identity of journalists and their questions with the Irvings.