Canadian Commissioner Plans to Review 1982 Access Law

6 July 2012

Canadian Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault July 6 said her office will conduct a major review of Canada’s Access to Information Act.

Her announcement came on the 30th anniversary of the act, which she said is showing its age.

Canada “was a trailblazer in government transparency three decades ago,” according to the press release, but today the law “would benefit from an assessment with other, more progressive, freedom of information laws around the World.”

“Our investigations have demonstrated a number of deficiencies in the law which hampers the development of a truly open government,” said Legault.

She said her office in the coming months “will engage in a dialogue with the public and stakeholders.”  The announcement continued: “This will launch a detailed review by the Commissioner of the Act’s provisions, including a comparative analysis of other jurisdictions, with a view to making recommendations to Parliament on possible improvements to the Act.” Media reports indicate that she will focus her comparative review on Britain, the United States, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia.

“A strong freedom of information law is a necessary step towards sustainable transparency and accountability,” said the commissioner in the release.

The plan is to put out discussion paper in September, and get reactions. Proposals would go to Parliament next spring.

One media report quotes Michael Drapeau, an Ottawa lawyer and author of a FOI textbook, as saying Legault has no legal mandate to review the act and that getting involved in a “political exercise” will detract from her task of resolving complaints.

One section of the law, however, appears to provide leeway to conduct such a  review, stating:

39. (1) The Information Commissioner may, at any time, make a special report to Parliament referring to and commenting on any matter within the scope of the powers, duties and functions of the Commissioner where, in the opinion of the Commissioner, the matter is of such urgency or importance that a report thereon should not be deferred until the time provided for transmission of the next annual report of the Commissioner under section 38.

By contrast, Tyler Sommers, coordinator of Democracy Watch and chairperson of the Open Government Coalition, praised the review, “This is not only proper as she is required to report to Parliament about how the law is working, it is also needed.

Parliamentary committees have failed to review that act, he said, and the Conservative government “did not include any proposals for changes in their so-called action plan for next three years for the international Open Government Partnership, and broke almost all of their 2006 election promises to strengthen the law and enforcement.”

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