Task force to call for access-to-info changes
Friday, May 10, 2002
- A federal task force studying Canada's freedom-of-information law is poised to
call for an array of changes to improve public access to government records such
as now-secret cabinet papers.
a presentation Friday in Winnipeg, task force chairwoman Andree Delagrave
strongly signalled her coming report would recommend revisions to the
19-year-old Access to Information Act as well as new efforts to ensure the law
is better understood and more effectively administered by public servants.
critics argue the access law, which has changed little since its 1983 inception,
needs modernization to keep pace with the digital information revolution, public
expectations about openness and shifts in government.
is no magic bullet for solving the shortcomings of the system," say notes
presentation. "To be effective, improvements have to be made on all fronts:
legislative, administrative, cultural."
told a national conference on access to government and corporate information
that Canada needs not a revolution, but a "constant and irreversible
evolution" towards greater transparency.
challenges are not unique, but we need to do much better." The presentation
notes were released Friday by the federal task force, appointed in August 2000
to review the Access to Information regime. The task force's final report to the
government, originally due last fall, is expected this spring.
the access law, people who pay $5 can request government records ranging from
expense reports and audits to memos and opinion polls. Federal agencies are
supposed to answer within 30 days, but can take time extensions or impose extra
relating to national security, personal affairs, legal advice and a host of
other sensitive areas may be deleted from releases. Cabinet records less than 20
years old are completely off-limits.
a number of Crown agencies, including the CBC and Canada Post, are exempt from
are making modest but steadily increasing use of the Access Act, filing almost
21,000 requests in 2000-01, Delagrave told the conference. Administering the law
costs about $30 million annually, or less than $1 per Canadian.
for many, the law remains a mystery, Delagrave pointed out. "After almost
20 years, the act is still not understood by the public, users, third parties or
even the public service."
task force, composed of public servants, has held several round-table
consultations with senior mandarins, federal employees who process access
requests and users of the law including historians, librarians and journalists.
It also commissioned numerous studies of the access regime.
task force has concluded the overall "balance and design" of the
federal access law is sound, Delagrave
told the conference. But the scope of the act is more restrictive than
comparable legislation in other countries and Canadian provinces. For instance,
no other jurisdiction shields cabinet records to the extent Canada does.
the other key findings:
public servants with the resources and the tools required to do access work
efficiently is not a luxury," the presentation notes say.
said federal leadership, particularly from the Treasury Board, is needed to help
solve the problems.
formal process of requesting information under the act cannot meet all needs,
she added. "Government information must be made available as widely and
easily as possible, through a variety of channels."