This weekend will mark an important milestone for information rights in Canada. Thirty years ago tomorrow, the federal Access to Information Act received Royal Assent, becoming the law of the land.
But according to a press release issued today by the federal Information Commissioner, her office’s investigations “have demonstrated a number of deficiencies in the law which hampers the development of a truly open government.”
The Commissioner is not just talking about the need for reform, she is also going to be doing something about it. A public dialogue series that will launch a “detailed review” of the Act in the interest of modernizing it has also been announced today.
While undertaking this kind of consultation process is an excellent idea, it remains to be seen whether the Harper Government, becoming notorious for obstruction of information and secrecy, will take the recommendations seriously.
Legault’s predecessor, Robert Marleau, identified 12 steps that needed to be taken to avert what he called a crisis in information management. In 2009, the Commons Access to Information, Privacy, and Ethics committee managed to overcome party differences to issue a unanimous report recommending an action plan to respond to the Commissioner’s warnings, and deal with the increasingly dysfunctional federal ATI system. Turning his back on his own MPs, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson rejected every one of the committee’s recommendations.
More recent efforts at convincing the government to act have suffered a similar fate. In February 2012, Canada’s information commissioners wrote a joint Letter on Open Government to President of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement. The letter called on the Harper Conservatives to join the Open Government Partnership, and laid out nine specific recommendations, which you can check out here. One recommendation was reform of the ATIA. The government ignored it.
This is pathetic for a nation that was once a global leader, but is currently tied for 51st place in global government openness rankings, behind Angola, Colombia, and Niger.
And so while we applaud the Commissioner’s efforts and hope that they lead to a real revitalization of Canadian ATI, the federal government’s penchant for secrecy is impossible to overlook. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Act, we look forward to working with the federal Information Commissioner and other Canadians to renew the pressure on the government for desperately needed changes to the Act.