TORONTO - The Ontario government is refusing to release the contract of a special prosecutor hired to handle criminal charges against former attorney general Michael Bryant, saying the contract is related to the prosecution and cannot be made public.

The Canadian Press made a request under provincial freedom of information legislation for the contract of Richard Peck, the veteran Vancouver lawyer who has been retained by Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney General to prosecute Bryant.

In its response, the attorney general's office said the contract is related to an ongoing prosecution and is therefore exempt from freedom of information requests.

Bryant was charged with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous driving causing death following an altercation with cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard on Aug. 31 in Toronto.

Police say the incident began with a "minor collision" between Bryant and Sheppard on a busy downtown street which resulted in Sheppard grabbing on to the side of a car. Sheppard then fell under the vehicle, suffering fatal injuries.

The Crown has yet to disclose the details of its case against Bryant. The next court date is set for Dec. 7.

Facing questions of possible interference in its prosecution of Bryant, the Ministry of the Attorney General hired prominent criminal lawyer Richard Peck as special prosecutor in September. Peck has previously handled a number of difficult cases for provincial governments, including Ontario's.

Government transparency advocates are criticizing the refusal to release Peck's contract.

Duff Conacher, co-ordinator of Democracy Watch, said the employment contract is unrelated to Bryant's actual prosecution.

"It has nothing to do with how the prosecution will be conducted, (and) has nothing which would prejudice the case or any witness or the judge or any jury," Conacher said.

James Stribopoulos, a criminal law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, speculated the contract may be similar to retainer agreements made between lawyers and their clients. Such a retainer would include a description of the required work, the scope of Peck's authority as special prosecutor and his rate of pay, Stribopoulos said.

If so, then the contract "probably qualifies as a prosecution-related record," he said.

Kevin Gaudet, director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said there are good reasons to protect the release of certain government information, but the public has a right to know how much is spent on prosecutions.

"It's incumbent upon the province to disclose to taxpayers how it is that our money is being spent on 1/8the 3/8 prosecution of an important case," Gaudet said.

"And they should disclose as much of the contract as possible."

Gaudet said the government could have censored portions of the contract considered potentially harmful to the prosecution's efforts while still releasing other parts of the document.

Brendan Crawley, spokesman for the Ministry of the Mttorney General, said the ministry had nothing to add to its response to freedom of information request.

Stribopoulos said he doubts the release of Peck's salary would affect the case. However, the information may be subject to the legal principle of solicitor-client privilege, which protects confidential correspondence between a lawyer and a client, he said.

"Even the government enjoys that privilege with respect to the lawyers that it retains," Stribopoulos said.