Access to information rights in Canada have been steadily eroding, according to the Information Commissioner of Canada. On March 31, 2015, the Commissioner tabled a special report in Parliament that proposes in-depth reform of the Access to Information Act (http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/communique-de-presse-news-releases-2015_1.aspx). According to the Commissioner, “although the Act was intended to shine a light on government decisions, it has become a shield against transparency and has encouraged a culture of delay.”
The report contains 85 recommendations that, if adopted, would create a “culture of openness” with transparency and access to information being the norm, not the exception. According to the Commission’s news release, some of the key points in the report include measures to extend the Act’s coverage to all branches of government, set tighter timelines for processing requests and maximize disclosure. All of which are intended to create a government culture that is “open by default”.
If adopted, these recommendations would make it easier to get information (including instant messages) from government, and would significantly reduce the number of exemptions and exceptions to disclosure. The risks of inadvertent disclosure are well known to the government, (http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-revenue-agency-privacy-breach-leaks-prominent-canadians-tax-details-1.2849336). These recommended measures would lead to a renewed focus on information governance at the federal level.
Whether the government will accept the report’s recommendations remains to be seen but this report is a step towards modernizing the way in which Canadians access important public information.