access to information fading
Governments say more study needed before law is changed
Reprinted with permission from the Ottawa
Friday, October 4, 2002
The Ottawa Citizen
Prospects for reform of Canada's freedom-of-information law faded
yesterday amid talk of further government study of possible changes.
Key officials involved in a review of the Access to Information Act
indicated there would be many months of consultations and preparatory
work before proposals could be drafted for consideration by the
The remarks at the annual conference of the Canadian Access and
Privacy Association effectively scotched rumours the Liberal
government would soon carry out a long-awaited overhaul of the law,
which has barely changed since taking effect in 1983.
The Access to Information Act allows people who pay $5 to request a
variety of records held by government departments. But many critics
have called for improvements to the act, saying it is out of step with
public appetite for greater government transparency.
A federal task force report issued in June recommended several
modifications to the access regime, raising hopes of legislative and
But federal Justice Department official Bill Pentney told the
conference the report was "not meant to be the last word" on
Officials are consulting government departments, Crown corporations
and other parties, Mr. Pentney said.
"It is not clear what the timing of the government's response
will be on the legislative side," he said.
"We are taking the time right now to try to study the task
force report, look at it in the broader context, and try to develop
the best possible set of reform recommendations for consideration by
Mr. Pentney said Justice would work with officials at the Treasury
Board Secretariat, another federal agency with responsibility for the
access law, in assembling proposals.
The secretariat is undertaking a review of administrative policies
associated with the access law in order to help government officials
who answer requests for information do a better job.
Journalist Dean Beeby, who also addressed the conference, expressed
frustration at the slow pace of the reform process in the wake of the
task force report.
"How long are we going to study this thing?" asked Mr.
Beeby, Atlantic bureau chief of The Canadian Press. "It seems to
me that this was a lost opportunity."
The task force, which spent almost two years on its study,
recommended access to deliberations of the federal cabinet after 15
years instead of 20, measures to improve government information
management and the processing of access requests, and granting
authority to issue orders to the information commissioner, who is now
limited largely to a mediator's role.
© Copyright 2002 The Ottawa Citizen