The Privacy and Access Council of Canada is among the 40 countries and 60 non-governmental organizations that participate in the annual celebration of International Right to Know Day to raise awareness about governments’ decision-making processes.
Exercising the right to gain access to information is a vital aspect of democracy and good governance that is necessary for the enjoyment of human rights, and fosters greater government accountability and transparency.
“The overarching purpose of access to information legislation, then, is to facilitate democracy. It does so in two related ways. It helps to ensure first, that citizens have the information required to participate meaningfully in the democratic process, and secondly, that politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry.” (Dagg v. Canada, 1997)
All Canadian provinces and territories have freedom of information legislation that provides a right to access information held by governments and public bodies. Federal provincial, and territorial oversight is provided by commissioners or ombudspersons responsible for ensuring that the rights of information requesters are respected.
At the federal level, the Access to Information Act came into force on July 1, 1983 — twenty years before Facebook was launched. The first Canadian jurisdictions to introduce their own provincial access to information legislation were Nova Scotia (1977), New Brunswick (1980), Newfoundland (1981), and Québec (1982).
In the 35-plus years since they were enacted, the country’s various access and privacy laws have remained largely unchanged.
Successive governments have resisted the repeated requests and recommendations by regulators, individuals, and organizations across Canada to ensure that political parties and candidates are subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act. Recent changes to the Canada Elections Act are sorely inadequate to pierce the veil of secrecy that would enable Canadians to find out what information political parties and candidates hold about them, and what is done with that personal information.
In advance of the 2019 federal general election, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada and the country’s Chief Electoral Officer issued guidelines for how federal parties and candidates ought to gather and use Canadians’ personal information, but those are unenforceable and non-specific recommendations.
The Privacy and Access Council of Canada therefore encourages all Canadians to exercise their Right to Know by asking every candidate in the upcoming federal election one important question:
Will you commit to immediately amending the federal Privacy Act and the federal Access to Information Act to ensure that they immediately apply, without exception, to political parties and candidates?