Access to Information Act | Commissioner wants to include Prime Minister and cabinet members

Access to Information Act |  Commissioner wants to include Prime Minister and cabinet members

(Ottawa) The Federal Information Commissioner is calling for the offices of the Prime Minister and other members of the cabinet to be included in the Access to Information Act.

Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard believes that documents held by these offices, except those of a personal or political nature, should be accessible to the public.

Mme Mayard made this recommendation in a brief to the Liberal government, which is conducting a comprehensive review of the law, which is meant to be a key accountability tool for Canadians.

Subjecting ministerial offices to the Access to Information Act would fulfill a promise Justin Trudeau made in the 2015 election campaign, from which he has strayed since he took office.

Instead, the Liberals forced ministers to release information, including mandate letters, certain briefing materials, and travel and hospitality expenses.

However, according to Mme Maynard, ministers’ offices hold other documents relating to their functions that do not fall under this obligation.

“It is important to allow the public to have access to the documents which interest them, and not only to those which are offered to them proactively”, she wrote in the document which was published on her website .

Mme Maynard recommends that the law apply to any organization that provides government services or conducts activities of a government nature, including those to which the government has contracted to deliver programs.

The law allows Canadians who pay $ 5 to request files ranging from internal memos and emails to briefing notes and research reports.

However, the law passed in 1983 has been widely criticized as being outdated and poorly administered. This prompted numerous formal complaints to the commissioner about prolonged delays and blacked out pages in documents.

The Trudeau government announced the revised law in June, but has yet to provide details on how the public will be able to participate, citing challenges posed by COVID-19.

Some supporters of transparency have expressed skepticism about the revision, given the many calls for far-reaching reform over the years.

“This access system, which was already in a critical phase before the pandemic, could quickly become irreparable if certain important problems are not resolved”, warns Mme Maynard.

She underlines:

• Lack of leadership and clear guidelines regarding transparency and transparency expectations;

• The pressing need to innovate and allocate adequate resources to the access system;

• The need to adequately document decisions and effectively manage information from institutions;

• Timely declassification of documents.

“These elements are essential for the proper functioning of the access system and deserve the immediate attention of the government and the heads of the institutions, as well as the legislative examination,” she pleaded.

Mme Maynard recommends, among other things, setting a time limit for agencies to consult with other government departments when dealing with access requests, and tightening a provision that allows agencies to refuse to broadcast content considered government notice.

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