Saturday, June 11, 2005

2004-2005 Annual Report of Canada's Information Commissioner

Information Commissioner John Reid, the federal official mandated to investigate complaints from people whose requests for information from federal government agencies and departments have been frustrated, presented his final annual report on the application of Canada's Access to Information Act earlier this week.

Reid ends his 7-year term as Commissioner with some harsh criticism for the federal government.

"The clear lesson of these seven years is that governments continue to distrust and resist the Access to Information Act and the oversight of the Information Commissioner... Vigilance, by users, the media, academics, the judiciary, information commissioners and members of Parliament, must be maintained against the very real pressures from governments to take back from citizens, the power to control what, and when, information will be disclosed."

On the positive side, the report refers to the Federal Court’s support for the Commissioner’s power to see records the government claims are protected by solicitor-client privilege, the creation of a new Parliamentary Committee to oversee access, privacy and ethics, the improvement in records management practices and the reduction in delays in the system.

In 1999, half of the complaints investigated related to failure to meet the 30-day deadline for responding to a request for government documents (there are a few exceptions to this deadline).

Last year, delay complaints represented 14.5 per cent of the office's workload, though the percentage had jumped to 21 per cent this year.

But despite improvements in government access, Reid does not consider his tenure a success: "There continues to be a deep distrust of the Access to Information Act at all levels in government and, most regrettably, in Parliament."

He singles out recent provisions to the Anti-Terriorism Act, which allow for the Attorney-General to deny access to records considered sensitive to national security. As well, the Ethics Commissioner's Office has been excluded from the coverage of the Access Act, and an amendment to proposed whistleblowing legislation would allow government to refuse access for decades to information collected or compiled as a result of a whistleblower's report.

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posted by Michel-Adrien at 4:41 pm

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