Federal Accountability Action Plan, April 2006
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Strengthening access to information legislation
Expansion of Access to Information Act coverage to include:
- Seven Agents and Officers of Parliament: the Offices of the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor General, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, and the Commissioner of Lobbying
- Seven Crown corporations: Canada Post, Via Rail, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada, Export Development Canada, the National Arts Centre, and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board
- Three foundations: Canada Foundation for Innovation, Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology, and the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation
- A draft bill that reflects the Information Commissioner’s recommendations and a discussion paper tabled for consideration and debate
In 2004-05, the Government of Canada received 25,207 requests under the Access to Information Act.
Why we are doing this
Access to government information allows Canadians and organizations to participate more fully in public policy development and better assess the Government of Canada’s performance in order to hold it to account. The Government must instil the public trust and respect the public interest by encouraging the greatest degree of openness and transparency, while taking into account legitimate concerns such as personal privacy, commercial confidentiality, and protection of intergovernmental affairs.
The Access to Information Act became law in 1983. The legislation is based on a number of principles: that effective accountability depends on knowing the information and options available to government decision makers; that government documents often contain information vital to the effective participation of citizens and organizations in public policy development; that government is the single most important storehouse of information about our society, and that, as a public resource, this information should be made available wherever possible; that necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific; and that decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independent of government.
Since the Access to Information Act became law, much has changed in the federal government, in Canada, and around the world. Accordingly, there have been numerous calls for reform of the Access to Information Act, most recently from the Information Commissioner, who in September 2005 proposed a series of changes to the Act to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.
The Federal Accountability Act will introduce the following changes:
- The Act will expand the coverage of the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, and the Library and Archives of Canada Act to include the
- the Offices of the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Commissioner of Official Languages, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Auditor General, the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, and the Commissioner of Lobbying;
- Canada Post, Via Rail Canada, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada, Export Development Canada, the National Arts Centre, and the Public Sector Pension Investment Board; and
- Canada Foundation for Innovation, Canada Foundation for Sustainable Development Technology, and the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation.
- It will provide a duty for institutions to assist requesters without regard to their identity, and will clarify the time limit for making a complaint under the Access to Information Act.
- It will increase the number of investigators the Information Commissioner may use for investigations concerning information related to defence or national security.
In addition, we will:
- immediately table in Parliament a separate draft bill that reflects the Information Commissioner’s recommendations for access reform; and
- table at the same time a discussion paper to highlight a variety of issues and options for discussion, including the following:
- the possible extension of the Access to Information Act to include more organizations;
- the principles of exemptions and exclusions;
- factors related to the efficiency and effectiveness of the request process;
- the appropriate roles for the Information Commissioner and designated ministers;
- possible approaches to a duty to document; and
- the costs related to various proposals under consideration.
The Access to Information Act is a complex piece of legislation, with a broad constituency across many sectors of society and widely divergent views on its administration. The Information Commissioner’s proposed amendments, for example, would require more than 88 changes or additions to 46 provisions of the Access to Information Act. When the Information Commissioner appeared before the Standing Committee, he advised them that his recommendations had not had the benefit of consultations with stakeholders.
A separate process will allow the parliamentary committee to engage in a comprehensive debate in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders, and to issue a report when it reaches the end of its deliberations. This approach is necessary to balance the value of transparency with the legitimate interests of individuals, other governments, and third parties in the security and confidentiality of their dealings with government. It will also allow for diverse views to be heard, and for the resulting legislation to find broad support after comprehensive analysis and full debate.
By expanding the coverage of the Access to Information Act, the Government will become more transparent and more open. It will provide Canadians with access to more information from Crown corporations, Agents of Parliament, and government-funded foundations. At the same time, the Government will explore ways to further strengthen access to information legislation in consultation with parliamentarians and Canadians to ensure that their concerns receive careful attention. Doing so will ensure a measured approach to access reform that will allow the Government to widen access while mitigating costs and unintended consequences on stakeholders, partners, and government programs.
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