01/30/2014 03:30 EST | Updated 04/01/2014 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia government, info officer clash on report on foster children

HALIFAX - A recent report that suggests the Nova Scotia government is routinely denying basic information to former foster children is inaccurate and misleading, the province's community services minister said Thursday.

Joanne Bernard was commenting on a report released last week by Dulcie McCallum, the province's freedom of information officer.

Bernard said she has asked for a meeting with McCallum because she believes the report is wrong to suggest former foster children are getting less information about their family history than they used to.

"I have some grave concerns about inaccuracies in that report," Bernard said after a cabinet meeting. "We are following the letter of the law."

McCallum's report says she launched a review after receiving a spike in complaints from former foster children who said they were being denied information about their family history.

The report says the Community Services Department is ignoring previous practice and the law through an incorrect interpretation of the provincial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

"Children who grew up in foster care in Nova Scotia deserve the same right to their life story as all other children," the report says. "Foster children are being treated as if they have no past — essentially a person without any life story prior to adulthood.''

Former foster children are not being told why they were removed from their biological family, where they came from, or if their family had a history of health issues, among other things, the report says.

McCallum's report says former foster children used to be granted easy access to that information, but the department has moved away from this long-standing practice for reasons that appear to contradict the intent of the province's freedom of information law.

The law specifically states that it can't be used to restrict access to information that had been available before the act went into effect, the report says.

McCallum said she had yet to hear from the minister by late Thursday.

"I stand by my report," she said in an interview. "I would urge the minister to make that appointment so that we can really discuss the details of this and see if we can come to a resolution."

Bernard said it was her understanding that, as an example, former foster children must make an application under the Freedom of Information Act if they want to have access to the medical files of their biological parents.

She said there hasn't been a change in the way the department does things. But then she mentioned a court case that could have had an impact on how the department handles requests for information from former foster children before she was appointed as a minister last year.

"If it did, it would have been before my time," she said. "As of now, we are following the letter of the law. There is no decrease in information."