Bill fails to fix Canada's broken access to information system
TORONTO, Sept. 28, 2017 /CNW/ - A global coalition of civil society organizations and individuals, listed below, have issued a joint letter calling on Treasury Board President Scott Brison to withdraw the government's inadequate Access to Information Act reform legislation, Bill C-58. The group says that the government should come forward with a bill that addresses seriously Canada's broken access to information system. The letter was sent on International Right to Know Day, a date when groups around the world celebrate the importance of freedom of information to democracy and accountable governance.
The Access to Information Act (ATIA), now nearly 35 years old, needs major reforms to provide for an effective right to access information held by public authorities.
The government's proposed reforms, namely Bill C-58, fail to address a number of serious problems in the Act, including the vastly overbroad regime of exceptions, the broad discretion of public authorities to delay in responding to requests, the absence of any duty of public authorities to document important decision-making processes, and the limited scope of coverage of the Act. In some areas, Bill C-58 even weakens the current policies. 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.
"The Liberal government promised big changes to Canada's access to information system upon their election, then broke a key promise to open up the Offices of the Prime Minister and Ministers to public requests," said Tom Henheffer, Executive Director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. "The current system is failing Canadians and the government's reform bill, Bill C-58, won't fix it."
"Canadians have waited far too long to see significant reforms to the Access to Information Act," said Toby Mendel, Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy. "At this point the minor tinkering that Bill C-58 represents is simply not good enough. The government should deliver on its promises to reform the Act."
"Access to public information is an essential pillar in any democratic government," said Christophe Deloire, Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders. "The people of Canada deserve meaningful reform so that they may more readily know what their government is doing and can be better informed citizens."
The coalition calls for a bill that include the following changes:
- 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 public authorities, and require them to preserve records of their decision-making.
- Put in place 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 asking Canadians to sign an online petition calling on Minister Scott Brison to scrap Bill C-58 and present a new bill that adequately addresses the shortfalls of the Access to Information Act and 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
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) monitors, defends and reports on free expression and access to information in Canada and abroad. Rooted in the field of journalism, CJFE promotes a free media as essential to a fair and open society. CJFE boldly champions the free expression rights of all people, and encourages and supports individuals and groups in the protection of their own and others' free expression rights. cjfe.org
Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD) works around the world to promote, protect and develop those human rights which serve as the foundation for or underpin democracy, including the rights to freedom of expression, to vote and participate in governance, to access information and to freedom of assembly and association. www.law-democracy.org
SOURCE Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
For further information: and media enquiries, please contact: Duncan Pike, Campaigns and Advocacy Coordinator, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, [email protected], 416-787-8156 x203; Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy, [email protected], 902-431-3688