In celebration of International Right to Know Day, September 28th, the Privacy and Access Council of Canada (PACC-CCAP.ca), the leading national association of access and privacy professionals in Canada, joined a global coalition of civil society organizations and concerned citizens in issuing a joint letter calling on Treasury Board President Scott Brison to provide meaningful reform of Canada’s access-to-information regime.
The signatories — who are committed to ensuring a strong access to information system in Canada and share the concern that Bill C-58 does little to fix the many systemic problems in the current access-to-information — call on the government to withdraw the government’s inadequate Access to Information Act (ATIA) reform legislation, Bill C-58, and introduce a bill that provides a genuine and effective right to access information held by public authorities.
The government’s proposed reforms fail to address a number of serious problems in the Act, which is now almost 35-year old. The bill does nothing to narrow the broad exemptions that allow federal agencies to keep information secret, impose a duty for public authorities to document important decision-making processes, or expand the limited scope of coverage of the Act. The bill also fails to extend the ATIA to the Offices of the Prime Minister and Ministers, as promised by the Liberal party during the 2015 federal election.
Privacy and Access Council of Canada president Sharon Polsky, MAPP, notes that members are concerned that Bill C-58 will further undermine access-to-information. “Bill C-58 expands the broad discretion of public authorities to avoid responding to requests by allowing the heads of public bodies to characterize access requests as vexatious or frivolous,” notes Ms Polsky, “and that gives the heads of federal public bodies the power to disregard access requests — strengthening the already opaque shield against access that is contrary to the intent of the legislation and undermines democracy.”
The coalition calls for a bill that include the following changes to enable Canadians to obtain the information they need to participate meaningfully in democratic processes, while also holding Canada’s public officials and Members of Parliament accountable:
- Deliver on the promise to expand the scope of the Act to cover the Office of the Prime Minister and Ministers’ Offices by allowing individuals to make requests for information from these bodies, as they may do with other public authorities, while retaining the proposed proactive publication obligations.
- Introduce a formal duty to document for all public authorities, and require them to preserve records of their decision-making.
- Implement a robust system for limiting the discretion of public authorities to extend the time limits for responding to requests and formalise in law the fee waivers contained in the May 2016 Interim Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act.
- Ensure that exceptions and exclusions to the right of access are narrowly defined and subject to both a test of actual harm and a mandatory public interest override.
- Give the Information Commissioner binding, enforceable order powers over all complaints regarding requests for information. This was one of the few significant reforms included in Bill C-58, and it should be retained.
Coalition members are calling on Canadians to sign an online petition calling on Minister Scott Brison to scrap Bill C-58 and write a new bill that respects the public’s right to know.
Amnesty International Canada (English Branch)
British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA)
British Columbia Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (BC FIPA)
Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ)
Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC)
Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Canadian Taxpayers Federation
Canadians for Accountability
Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Regina
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Ecology Action Centre (EAC)
Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ)
International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group
Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
Ligue des droits et libertés
Our Right to Know
Privacy and Access Council of Canada — Conseil du Canada de l’Accès et la vie Privée (PACC-CCAP)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Research and Education for Solutions to Violence and Abuse (RESOLVE), Saskatchewan
Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association (RMCLA)
Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
Elizabeth Ball, Academic Librarian (retired)
Donna Bowman, Librarian
Bruce Campbell, 2016 Law Foundation of Ontario, Leadership in Justice Fellow
Stephen Chapman, Isomer Design
Ann D. Cooper
Phyllis Creighton, Order of Ontario
Lisa Di Valentino, Law and Public Policy Librarian, University of Massachusetts
Mary Francoli, Associate Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law, University of Ottawa
Dr. Brydon Gombay, Community Psychologist
Carla Graebner, Librarian for Research Data Services and Government Information, W.A.C. Bennett Library, Simon Fraser University
Larry Hannant, PhD historian, University of Victoria
Dr. Steve Hewitt, Senior Lecturer, University of Birmingham
Laverne Jacobs, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor
Vincent Kazmierski, Associate Professor, Department of Law and Legal Studies, Carleton University
Gregory S Kealey, Professor Emeritus, University of New Brunswick
Abby Lippman, Professor Emerita, McGill University
Claire McNeil, Dalhousie Legal Aid Service
Eugen Melinte, M. Eng
Sharon Polsky, MAPP, Data Protection Advocate & Privacy by Design Ambassador
J.M. Porup, Editor, MuckRock Canada
Marian Ramage, Brandon, Manitoba
Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law, University of Ottawa
Tania Thomas, Youth Services Librarian – Outreach to Newcomer Families, Surrey, British Colombia
Stanley Tromp, Journalist and Author