Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Information Commissioner Special Report to Parliament on Access to Information

In a special report to the Canadian Parliament released yesterday, interim Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault concludes that delays in the release of federal government information have increased markedly since 2002.

She conducted an extensive survey of how requests were handled in 24 federal institutions under the Access to Information Act. They account for 88 % of all access requests made to federal institutions in 2008-2009.

In her introductory message, Legault is very blunt:

"Despite warnings and recommendations, delays continue to be the Achilles’ heel of the access to information system and have yet to be appropriately addressed across the government. Chronic delays are generating an increasing number of complaints, which compound the pressure on institutions, particularly those that are under-resourced. As a result, delays continue to erode requesters’ right to timely access to information. "

"This right is at risk of being totally obliterated because delays threaten to render the entire access regime irrelevant in our current information economy. Ever-evolving information and communications technologies have increased expectations for a quick dissemination of information enabling content creation and innovation. The government should be leading this new development or, at the very least, keeping up with the pace (...) "

"The status quo whereby citizens want information that the government wants to control no longer works. The technical arcana of bureaucracy are neither a reasonable explanation nor an excuse for increasingly lengthy delays. As the custodians of information that belongs to Canadians, Parliament, the Information Commissioner and government must work with all stakeholders to achieve dynamic solutions that embrace democracy through the free flow of information."

13 institutions performed below average or worse against a number of measures, including how quickly they responded to requests and how often they completed requests late.

Bad performers included the Privy Council Office, Health Canada, Revenue Canada, Natural Resources and the Canadian Food Inspection Service. The performance of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade was in such decline since last year that it earned a red alert rating.

11 institutions performed well, based on factors such as support from the minister and senior officials, sufficient resources, commitment to training, full delegation to the access to information departmental coordinator, consistent exercise of the duty to assist requesters, support and timeliness in handling consultations from other institutions, and sound information management. Among the institutions praised are Justice, Citizenship and Immigration, Public Works, Industry Canada and the Canadian Border Services Agency.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 12:27 pm


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