Global Coalition Calls for Government to Scrap ‘Inadequate’ Access to Information Reform Bill

Bill fails to fix Canada’s broken access to information system

Montreal (Thursday, September 28, 2017) — Voices-Voix signed on to a joint letter by a global coalition of civil society organisations and concerned citizens (listed below) calling on Treasury Board President Scott Brison to withdraw the government’s inadequate Access to Information Act reform legislation, Bill C-58. The group has suggested that the government instead come forward with a bill that addresses seriously the 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 access to information to democracy and accountable government.

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 for public authorities to document important decision making processes, and the limited scope of coverage of the Act. In some areas, it even weakens the current rules. 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 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 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.

The letter can  be accessed here.