What's New

  • 6 June 2016

    Why Torontoist is Launching an FOI Column

     By Jessica Smith Cross The author is a staff member of the Torontoist. This June 2 article is reprinted with permission from the Torontoist. As Torontonians, we have a right to know how the Scarborough Subway ridership projections were made. We own the statistics on police carding and can demand to see them to learn what they reveal about […]

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  • 5 May 2016

    Canada Orders Fees Cut, Data Made More Open

    The Canadian government has ordered several immediate access to information reforms while it holds a public consultation on a broader package. The Interim Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act “delivers on key commitments to make government more open and transparent,” according to the announcement. The Directive “sends a strong message across […]

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Read more news….

freedom of information

The 1982 Access to Information Act provides Canadian citizens and other permanent residents and corporations in Canada the right to apply for and obtain copies of records held by government institutions. The institution must reply in 30 days. The courts have ruled that the Act is “quasi-constitutional.”

Records can be withheld under numerous exemptions. Documents designated as Cabinet confidences are excluded from the Act and are presumed secret for 20 years.

“There is wide recognition that the Act, which is largely unchanged since its adoption, is in need of drastic updating,” wrote David Banisar, and most FOI experts agree.

Appeals of withholding are made to The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada. The Commissioner receives complaints and can investigate and issue recommendations but does not have the power to issue binding orders. It can ask for judicial review if its recommendation is not followed.

LEARN MORE: in-depth overview | news archive | further reading | excerpt from Global Survey

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News Archive

  • 3 December 2015

    Ontario Government Orders Data Open by Default

    The Canadian province of Ontario has issued an open data directive that is part of a larger government-run effort that could yield reforms concerning access to information and the standards for public consultations. The new directive requires that all data be public, unless it is exempt for privacy, legal, confidentiality, security or commercially sensitive reasons. […]

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  • 17 September 2015

    Canadian Groups Press Politicians for Access Reforms

    Nineteen Canadian groups have issued a joint letter asking the major political parties to make concrete commitments to reform Canada’s access to information system. They urged four reforms: – Strengthen the Office of the Information Commissioner with a larger mandate and order-making power. – Eliminate loopholes and blanket exclusions and minimize exceptions to the Access […]

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  • 1 April 2015

    Canadian Commissioner Makes 85 Reform Proposals

    The Canadian Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has made 85 recommendations to bring the Access to Information Act up to international standards. Her report, Striking the Right Balance for Transparency: Recommendations to Modernize the Access to Information Act, was sent to Parliament, but observers were doubtful of the chances of passage with the current conservative government. Legault […]

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  • 11 March 2015

    Canadian Ruling Says Courts Can Review Long Extensions

    The Federal Court of Appeal in Canada on March 3 issued a decision confirming that courts can review the reasonableness of time delays in agency responses to freedom of information requests. A lower court had dismissed an application for judicial review filed the information commissioner, with the requester’s consent, under section 42 of the Access […]

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  • 18 July 2014

    Canada Pulls Out of Election for OGP Steering Committee

    The Canadian government has withdrawn its candidacy to join the Steering Committee that runs the Open Government Partnership. The unannounced withdrawal is noted without explanation in the OGP website page about the upcoming election.  * = Canada withdrew their application for the OGP Steering Committee on July 10. A statement provided by the Treasury Board Secretariat […]

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  • 2 May 2014

    Canadian Supreme Court Backs Ontario Commissioner

    The Supreme Court of Canada April 24 upheld an 2009 order by Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian instructing the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to disclose statistical information on the first three characters of Ontario postal codes (FSAs) and the number of registered sex offenders living in each FSA.  The unanimous […]

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  • 18 April 2014

    Canadian Commissioner Finds Evidence of Tampering

    Canada’s information commissioner Suzanne Legault has found “a pattern of improper involvement” by three Conservative officials that “comprised” rights under the Access to Information Act. The evidence of “systemic interference” with access to information requests warranted police investigation, she said, but the Public Works Minister chose not to pursue the matters, which date back to […]

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  • 17 March 2014

    Canadian Commissioner Loses Case Over Long Delay

    A Canadian judge has decided the law does not permit her to sanction a government agency for a three-year delay in responding to a request. The Canadian Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault took the National Defence ministry to court for delays in handling a Dec. 9, 2010, request for documents about a contract and communications related […]

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  • 11 October 2013

    Canadian Commissioners Issue Call for Reform

    Canada’s national information and privacy commissioners and the provincial commissioners on Oct. 9 issued an unusual joint resolution saying “Canada must re-establish its position as a leader in both the access and privacy fields” and offering 18 specific suggestions. Only a few Canadian laws “address modern challenges and to ensure continued protection of individuals’ rights […]

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  • 17 September 2013

    Canadian Commissioner Wants Access in OGP Plan

    Canada’s information commissioner Suzanne LeGault has urged Canadian officials to make modernization of the Access to Information Act a commitment in its next Open Government Partnership action plan. LeGault described the national access system pessimistically in a lengthy interview with Global News. “If this trend continues, then the system is really busting,” she said. Among […]

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  • 21 June 2013

    Ontario Commissioner Says Emails Improperly Deleted

    The information commissioner of the Canadian province of Ontario has found that a top government official improperly deleted emails. Commissioner Ann Cavoukian said in a report that the chief of staff to the former minister of energy violated the Archives and Recordkeeping Act (ARA) and the records retention schedule developed for ministers’ offices by the […]

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  • 12 April 2013

    Canada Launches Pilot Project for Online Information Access

    Canada has begun a one-year pilot project that will allow for the submission of information and privacy requests online to three departments. Tony Clement, President of the Treasury Board, announced the launch April. 9, saying, “Our Government is the most open and transparent government in Canadian history.  “This new online tool makes the process easier […]

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  • 17 December 2012

    Canadian Commissioner Extends Period for Comment

    The Information Commissioner of Canada has extended the deadline for comments on modernizing the almost 30-year-old Access to Information Act. The “open dialogue” will now run until Jan. 31, 2013.  About a dozen submissions have been made since the effort was begun Sept. 28 by commissioner Suzanne Legault. She plans to provide recommendations to Parliament […]

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  • 24 October 2012

    Emphasis on Open Data Overshadows Access Problems in Canada

    By Ken Rubin Rubin’s article first appeared Oct. 22 in Hill Times and is reprinted with permission. Rubin’s website is subtitled, “Canada’s Information Warrier.” Treasury Board Minister Tony Clement is quite happy these days to boast in Parliament and in news releases about bright “open data” prospects while ignoring the increasing “closed records” secrecy practices […]

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  • 12 October 2012

    Canadian Law Needs Improvement, Groups Say

    Canada should begin broad consultations as a first step to bringing its Access to Information Act into line with international standards, and officials “should improve their compliance with the spirit of the Act,” according to five civil society groups. The conclusions came in a submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process […]

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  • 8 October 2012

    Canada to Establish Pilot Portal for Making Requests

    The Canadian government has announced plans to create an online portal for citizens to file freedom of information requests to three agencies. The portal will route requests to the proper department, allow fees to be paid electronically, and track action on the request, according to Canadian Press report. The first departments to participate will be […]

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  • 1 October 2012

    Federal Government Ranks Badly in Canadian Audit

    The Canadian national government is “stuck in a rut of delays” when it comes to responding to freedom of information requests, according to the author of the annual audit by Newspapers Canada, issued Sept. 24 at the Sunshine Summit in Calgary.  “Municipalities continue to perform fastest in the audit, easily outpacing the senior levels of […]

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  • 19 September 2012

    Open Government? The Dangerous Distraction of Faux Transparency

    By Stanley Tromp Tromp is FOI caucus coordinator of the Canadian Association of Journalists. This article first appeared Sept. 17 in The Tyee and is reprinted with permission.  The original subtitle was: “While officials disgorge data sets and tweet away, citizens still lack muscle to compel the state to release records.” For citizens, the vital […]

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  • 18 September 2012

    Canadian Commissioner Sees Performance Improvement

    Canada’s Information Commissioner in her annual report (And in French) reports “for the first time in 10 years, a reversal of the declining performance of federal institutions in their fulfillment of their obligations under the Access to Information Act.” Suzanne Legault wrote, “Although this improvement was only slight, and the access to information system remains fragile, […]

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  • 6 July 2012

    Canadian Commissioner Plans to Review 1982 Access Law

    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 […]

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  • 16 December 2011

    OGP Countries Begin Consultations on Action Plans

    Various Open Government Partnership countries have starting holding public consultation on their national action plans, according to reports culled from the media, tweets, and government announcements. News on this front includes: –          Latvia starting a working group, –          Tanzania posting a draft plan, and –          Canada holding a Twitter consultation. The OGP is not maintaining […]

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  • 6 October 2011

    Views on Open Data Contrast During ICIC Sessions

    The sometimes discordant relationship between traditional advocates of freedom of information and the champions of open data was on display during several sessions Oct. 5 at the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners in Ottawa, Canada. One Canadian open data advocate called reforming FOI laws a low priority. FOI traditionalists, while supported the release of […]

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  • 27 September 2011

    Provincial Variation Apparent in Canadian FOIA Audit

    Response time to freedom of information varies among the Canadian provinces, according to the latest version of The National Freedom of Information Audit, sponsored by Newspapers Canada. Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Yukon were the fastest responders, while British Columbia was the slowest, according to the report, which includes A-F grades along with “bricks” […]

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  • 18 May 2011

    Canadian Court Limits Access to Ministerial Records

    The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the daily agenda of the prime minister is not disclosable under the Access to Information Act. Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault.criticized the ruling that such documents are not subject to the act, and called on the Conservatives, who control the government, to rewrite the law. The court decided […]

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  • 13 May 2011

    Canadian Press Group Scores Government Low on Access

    The Canadian Journalists for Fee Expression have given the government an “F-“ for access to information. A new report by the group rates more than half of federal agencies as below average and says five failed outright.  Further, 44 percent of information requests filed with the federal government are not responded to within 30 days, […]

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  • 8 April 2011

    Canadian Political Parties Criticized for Silence on FOI

    Three Canadian groups have asked the political parties to say what they will do to fix an access to information system that the groups say is “in chaos.” “In the campaign so far, politicians have used words like open government, transparency and democracy,” said Troy Lanigan of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, “but they say almost […]

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  • 11 March 2011

    Canadian Info Commissioner Issues Report Card

    There were “limited gains” in the transparency of Canada’s federal institutions, according to a “report card” issued March 10 by the Information Commissioner of Canada, Suzanne Legault. The headlines about the report emphasized the poor ratings given the Canada Post Corporation and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation “for dragging their feet on answering information requests from […]

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  • 19 March 2010

    Notable Canadian News Stories Based on ATIA requests

    By Stanley Tromp The value of a strong Access to Information Act is better demonstrated than just asserted. To counter negative claims made by bureaucrats and politicians about FOI law usage, here are summaries of Canadian news story on issues as diverse as health, safety, government financial waste, public security, and environmental risks. They all […]

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  • 20 October 2009

    New Report on Aid Transparency: Not Available! Not Accessible!

    Madrid, Spain — Transparency NGO Access Info Europe released a report on October 20 entitled “Not Available! Not Accessible!” to coincide with the opening of the International Aid Transparency Initiative’s conference of donors and recipient governments in the Hague. The report shows how donor governments are failing to make available the information needed to prevent corruption in […]

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  • 16 October 2009

    Justice Minister Rejects Much-Needed Reforms to Canada’s 26-Year-Old Transparency Law

    Recommendations Called for Broad Expansion of Information Commissioner’s Mandate Ottawa, Canada — In June 2009, the House of Commons Committee on access to information, privacy, and ethics made recommendations to modernize and expand the scope of Canada’s 26-year-old Access to Information Act. However, Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson rejected these recommendations as cumbersome and unnecessary, sparking complaints […]

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  • 28 September 2008

    International Right to Know Day 2008: Global Phenomenon Now Includes More Than 80 Countries

    Washington, D.C., September 28, 2008 – Today’s celebration of International Right-to-Know Day marks a new watershed in the global reach of freedom of information laws – now on the books in more than 80 countries – and features celebrations in countries ranging from Mexico to Moldova, according to postings today on the virtual network […]

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  • 16 May 2008

    Canadian Government Reports on IFI Activity Get Good Grade

    The Canadian government’s annual reporting on its activities at international financial institutions is getting better, according to the authors, and to a Canadian civil society group which recently gave the latest report its best grade ever. The Halifax Initiative said the report on 2007 activities merited a B+, up from last year’s rating of B-, […]

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  • 22 September 2006

    Hungarian Government Releases NATO Secrecy Policy Document

    UPDATE – 11 OCTOBER 2006 In response to a subsequent HCLU request, the Hungarian National Security Superintendence recently released an additional, previously secret NATO document entitled “Directive on the Security of Information,” dated 2005. The directive, enacted in support of NATO Security Policy C-M(2002)49, contains mandatory provisions related to classification, marking and handling of sensitive information, […]

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  • 22 March 2006

    Freedom of Information Laws Added to the Development Agenda

    By Toby McIntosh Riding a wave of transparency, the idea of encouraging Freedom of Information (FOI) laws as part of the development agenda is gaining currency, but slowly. With research and case studies increasingly identifying transparency as a key tool in fighting corruption and facilitating development, more attention is being paid to the development of […]

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  • 28 September 2005

    International Right to Know Day 2005

    Since 2002, freedom of information advocates around the world have been working together to promote the right of access to information for all people and recognize the benefits of transparent and accountable governments. We use this day as a way to share ideas, strategies and success stories about the development of freedom of information laws […]

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  • 11 April 2003

    World Bank Plans to Expand Publicity About Competitive Bidding Opportunities

    The World Bank is moving toward a new policy that will at least double the number of contract bidding opportunities publicized internationally, according to bank officials and business sector observers. The change will substantially increase the visibility of bank-financed contracts subject to international competitive bidding, with the aim of reducing costs. If all goes well […]

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  • 15 July 2002

    World’s Right to Know

    By Thomas Blanton Published in Foreign Policy, July/August 2002 During the last decade, 26 countries have enacted new legislation giving their citizens access to government information. Why? Because the concept of freedom of information is evolving from a moral indictment of secrecy to a tool for market regulation, more efficient government, and economic and technological […]

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in-depth overview | news archive | further reading | excerpt from Global Survey



Access to Information Act, C. A-1


C-36, Anti-Terrorism Act


Treasury Board, Policy on the Management of Government Information, May 1, 2003


Privacy Act. R.S. 1985, c. P-21


Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act


Security of Information Act, c. O-5



Information Commissioner of Canada


Access to Information Review Task Force


Privacy Commissioner


Department of Justice Canada, Access to Information and Privacy


Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy, Government of Alberta


The Nova Scotia Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Review Office


Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia


Ombudsman Manitoba, Access and Privacy Division


Information and Privacy Commissioner / Ontario


Saskatchewan Justice, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Branch


Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner


Yukon Ombudsman and Information and Privacy Commissioner


Government of Yukon - Access to Information and Protection of Privacy



Canadian Association of Journalists


Canadian Newspaper Association


Open Government Campaign, Democracy Watch


Access Reports (subscription service)


British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA)


B.C. Journalists Committee for Freedom of Information


Canadian Association of Professional Access and Privacy Administrators (CAPAPA)


Professor Alasdair Roberts, research on freedom of information law


Canadian Access and Privacy Association


Online Rights Canada


Canadian Journalists for Free Expression


Transparency International Canada


Canada Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic



Access to Information: Making it Work for Canadians (Review of Canada's ATI Act by Federal Government Task Force, 2002)



Stanley Tromp
Author of Fallen Behind and Independent FOI Researcher



Measuring Openness

Global Right to Information Rating
A country-by-country rating of laws by the Centre for Democracy and Law and Access Info.

Freedom House
The Freedom in the World report.

World Bank
Worldwide Governance Indicators

Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index
Measures perceptions of the degree of corruption.

Reporters Without Borders
The Press Freedom Index.