Information Commissioner of Canada: Canada is in need of serious access to information reform

On March 31, the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada tabled a report in parliament on Canada’s Access to Information Act. The report puts forward 85 recommendations to update the Act so that it better serves Canadians. FIPA signed the following joint letter calling on the Canadian government to review and update the Act, using the Commissioner’s report as a starting point.

Photo under CC License by Wikipedia
Photo under CC License by Wikipedia

March 31, 2014

Canada’s access to information (ATI) system is in crisis. It is taxing on those who administer it, the process of obtaining information is unnecessarily lengthy and cumbersome for users and it results in far too little information being made public. In short, our ATI system is failing the Canadians it is intended to serve.

The undersigned civil society organizations from across the country are extremely concerned with the problematic state of our current system. The Access to Information Act, which came into effect in 1983, is in desperate need of review and updating. Created before the adoption of the Internet, social media, and the numerous digital tools and technologies now prevalent in our daily communications, the Act is woefully out of date and cannot address current and future production, storage, and dissemination of information realities.

Access to information held by public authorities is a critical aspect of democracy. It enables the citizenry to make educated decisions, to participate in decision-making processes and to hold government accountable for its actions. Without an effective system to ensure adequate access to information and to guarantee government transparency, our democratic system is seriously undermined.

Today, the Information Commissioner of Canada, Suzanne Legault, tabled a report in Parliament entitled, “Striking the Right Balance for Transparency: Recommendations to modernize the Access to Information Act.” At over 100 pages in length, and containing 85 different recommendations, the Report is a robust assessment of the current system and provides a useful roadmap for starting a broad public consultation on how to update the Act to better serve Canadians and streamline processes for public authorities.

It is long past time for the Act to be reviewed and updated. Once a world leader in ATI, our country now lags far behind. Canada is currently ranked 57th out of the 101 countries on the Centre for Law and Democracy’s Right to Information Rating, a comparative assessment of right to information laws from around the world. While other countries modernize their ATI policies and practices, the Canadian system is becoming increasingly outdated and ineffective. Until we take action to address the system’s shortcomings, we will continue to fall further and further behind.

Access to information is critical to any functioning democracy, and has been neglected in this country for far too long. We, the undersigned organizations, call on the Canadian government to initiate a holistic and comprehensive review of our access to information system, using the Commissioner’s recommendations as a starting point, with a view to adopting an updated ATI Law, among other things, within a reasonable time frame.

Yours sincerely,

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association
Canadian Association of Journalists
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Canadian Journalism Foundation
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Centre for Law and Democracy
Democracy Watch
PEN Canada
Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia

Press Release: New study takes hard look at how our cars are watching us


March 25, 2015

Privacy organization says now is the time to act to protect private information collected and shared by in-vehicle computer systems

 VANCOUVER— The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA) has released a year-long study on privacy, consumer choice and onboard vehicle technology.

FIPA Connected Car report coverThe Connected Car: Who is in the Driver’s Seat? looks at how vehicles have changed from simple means of transportation to computers on wheels. A new generation of “Connected Cars” is capable of remarkable feats, from navigation to diagnosing vehicle health, monitoring driver behavior and providing customized on-board infotainment services.

“Through telematics and wireless connectivity, cars are collecting and processing enormous amounts of data,” said FIPA Executive Director Vincent Gogolek. “More and more of this data is personal information, and some of it reveals intensely private details of a person’s life.”

Data culled from vehicles can be used for safety, monitoring, customer relationship management and the new usage-based insurance programs offered in some Canadian provinces. Yet the same technologies that allow for safer, more convenient and more entertaining cars can be used to track and profile customers for marketing and other purposes.

“Some of the data collected and transmitted for data-mining and market research is simply not necessary for services and applications to work,” said the report’s head researcher and privacy lawyer Pippa Lawson.

Head researcher and report author Pippa Lawson
Head researcher and report author Pippa Lawson

“It opens the door to a range of privacy risks that include security breaches, malicious access and state surveillance.”

The report finds that the usage-based insurance programs now offered in Ontario and Quebec generally comply with Canadian privacy law, but automakers providing Connected Car services are failing to meet their legal obligations. Too often, consumers are given limited choice when it comes to the use and disclosure of their personal data collected by Connected Cars.

“The good news is that there’s still time to address these privacy challenges” said Gogolek, “but with Connected Cars set to mass-penetrate North American markets in the coming years, we need to get serious about setting industry standards and putting guidelines in place.”

Brenda McPhail, Usage-Based Insurance and Privacy Expert
Brenda McPhail, Usage-Based Insurance and Privacy Expert
Eric Lawton, Privacy by Design and Tools for Compliance
Eric Lawton, Privacy by Design and Tools for Compliance


Full Report | Summary information (Executive Summary, FAQs, Privacy Analysis Summary Table)

This research was made possible by grant from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada’s Contributions Program.

Vincent Gogolek, Executive Director,
Office: 604-739-9788
Cell: 604-318-0031


Alternate Contact: Tamara Herman, Program Director


FIPA is a non-partisan, non-profit society that was established in 1991 to promote and defend freedom of information and privacy rights in Canada. Our goal is to empower citizens by increasing their access to information and their control over their own personal information. We serve a wide variety of individuals and organizations through programs of public education, public assistance, research, and law reform.


Submission: Bill S-4

Bill S-4 would amend the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). FIPA calls for political parties to be covered by the law and makes other recommendations. Click here to download FIPA’s submission to the Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on Bill S-4, delivered in Ottawa on March 10, 2015.


Don’t Tackle Increasing Access to Information Complaints by Silencing the Watchdog

Originally posted in Huffington Post

Flags of Canada and Australia
Imagine shared under CC license by jasohill on Flickr

The federal Access to Information system has been in crisis for a number of years, and last week the crisis deepened.

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault told the Commons Access to Information, Ethics and Privacy committee (ETHI) that the number of complaints her office receives from people being denied access to documents by the federal government has shot up 30 percent over the past year, and that her budget has been reduced by 11 percent over the past four years. Without more resources to deal with this surge in complaints, delays will inevitably result.

In fact, she stated that if she did not get additional funding, “Canadians’ quasi constitutional right of access will be increasingly denied.”

Any delay in the Commissioner’s office means information requesters will have to wait even longer to get their documents. It also means that if the government digs in its heels, requesters can’t even get their day in Federal Court until the Commissioner’s office finishes its review of the file.

Commissioner Legault says she has repeatedly requested additional funding from the government, with no results to date.

Interestingly, the Australian government (which enjoys very close relations with the Harper ™ Government) is setting a worrying precedent by going much further in undercutting their Information Commissioner. They are actually in the process of abolishing the office entirely.

The Abbott government claims axing the Commissioner will save AUS$10.2 million over four years. Part of this seems to be based on a predicted drop in the number of complaints.

When the Australian Commissioner’s office was created in 2010, the cost of a complaint dropped from AUS$816 to zero. With this financial barrier removed, the number of complaints subsequently rose from 110 to more than 500.

Unsurprisingly, with funding for the Commissioner’s office based on an anticipated 110 complaints, it couldn’t keep up with the increased volume of complaints, with delays being the result. The Abbott government was critical of these delays and, rather than increasing funding, used this as a justification for abolishing the office.

Presumably, their move to resume charging $800 plus to file a complaint should considerably reduce the number of complaints.

Funding has been cut, offices closed and staff laid off in anticipation of the law abolishing the Commissioner passing parliament. However, they have run into some roadblocks in running the Commissioner out of town; the government has declined to move the bill forward for debate and a vote, probably because the Australian Senate is not controlled by the government, and they know they would lose. The Senate has now finished its activities until the new year.

The very strange result is that the Australian Commissioner lives on, but has no budget or office. The Commissioner put a notice up on his website earlier this week saying they would continue in operations while “…liaising with the Australian Government about transition arrangements for freedom of information matters.”

Although the Harper Government is unlikely to axe the Information Commissioner in an election year, the Australian government does set a bad example, and our government could follow suit by using the increasing delays and frustration from years of underfunding the Commissioner’s office to argue for abolition in Omnibudget 2016 or 2017.

If they get re-elected…