Canadian Commission Says Government is Using Access To Information Act as a 'Shield'

    Jun 27, 2017

    According to Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau isn’t delivering on his promise of a government that's open by default.

    The law that's intended to give Canadians access to government files is being used instead as a shield against transparency, Legault alleged in her annual report, released this month.

    Legault said her probe suggests the Access to Information Act isn’t fostering accountability and trust. It permits people who pay $5 to request anything from expense reports and audits to correspondence and briefing notes. The requests are supposed to be answered within 30 days, and agencies must provide legitimate reasons for taking extensions.

    The system has been criticized as slow and riddled with loopholes that let agencies withhold information rather than release it. Several key institutions that have valuable information for Canadians showed declines in performance, said Legault, an ombudsman for users of the law.

    Receiving grades of F for timeliness were the RCMP, Canada Revenue Agency, and Correctional Service and Global Affairs. National Defence and Health Canada were given the more serious Red Alert status.

    Legault says the latest federal budget has no funding for transparency measures and there’s been no direction from the head of the public service on increasing transparency.

    "I think he [Trudeau] needs to do more,” says Legault. “And I think he needs to make sure that the bureaucracy does more. It's not enough to say it."

    The government recently acknowledged it is delaying reforms to the 34-year-old law.

    Last year, Treasury Board President Scott Brison did issue a ministerial directive to enshrine the principle that federal agencies be "open by default." But Legault says the move, on its own, is not sufficient.

    "If you want to truly change a whole culture in a very large bureaucracy, you're going to have to make a concerted effort. There are going to have to be clear messages from the prime minister, the responsible ministers, the clerk of the Privy Council," she says. "Sadly, champions for transparency are absent."


    © 2017, ARMA International