Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Canada's Freedom of Information Process is Abysmal

Not good enough
Who sends checks by mail or requests government information by mail?  In the digital age, we ought to be able to access all government documents from a database by using a password, perhaps linked to our voter number.
Under the Access to Information Act, any resident of Canada can request government-controlled information, such as a bureaucrat’s expense claims or a minister’s briefing notes, for an initial $5 fee. The application is subject to a range of exemptions.

Only about 16 per cent of the 35,000 requests filed last year resulted in the full disclosure of information, compared with 40 per cent a decade ago.

And delays in the release of records continue to grow, with just 56 per cent of requests completed in the legislated 30-day period last year, compared with almost 70 per cent at the start of the decade.
Why the delay, the cost, the very poor response to requests?  Transparency?  Accountability?  Sloppy.

I bet it's easier to have the RCMP scan our twitter and Facebook accounts than get a simple answer from FOI.  Above graph shows a graph of how Canada stacks up globally.

The Harper Conservatives first came to power in 2006 on an explicit promise to reform the Access to Information Act dramatically but have largely failed to deliver after five years in power.

Parliament did broaden the number of federal institutions covered by the Act, but growing delays and excessive censorship have plagued the system, prompting repeated public scoldings from the last three information commissioners.

At least three government departments are currently under investigation for alleged political interference in the release of documents, which has led to the resignation of a ministerial aid.

MP Paul Szabo announce planned to introduce a private member’s bill to guarantee a public right to information in our Canadian Constitution.  Maybe again in 2014.

Principle 10 of the Declaration of the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development presented at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, was endorsed by Canada. It reads: “At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information concerning the environment that is held by public authorities, including information on hazardous materials and activities in their communities, and the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes.”
Source: By Stanley Tromp, Freedom of Information caucus coordinator of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), and author of Fallen Behind: Canada’s Access to Information Act in the World Context (2008). http://www3.telus.net/index100/foi

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