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Media Release


Wednesday, July 25, 2001

OTTAWA - Today, the Open Government Canada (OGC) coalition called for extensive reforms to the federal Access to Information Act (ATI Act) and access system and the federal government's process for reviewing the law.  At a news conference, OGC released its position paper on the review, entitled From Secrecy to Openness: How to Strengthen Canada's Access to Information System. (Link to OGC's July 2001 Position Paper)

"The current federal access to information system actually encourages secretive and unaccountable behaviour by Cabinet ministers and public officials," said Duff Conacher, a member of the OGC Steering Committee and Coordinator of Democracy Watch. "Many changes are needed to end the government's culture of secrecy that threatens our democracy."

The OGC position paper sets out 47 recommendations for changes to the federal access to information system, including the following main proposals:

  1. any type of record created by any institution or office that receives funding from or is connected to the federal government, or fulfills public interest functions, should be covered by the ATI Act;
  2. all exemptions under the ATI Act should be discretionary, and limited by a proof of harm test and a public interest override;
  3. the Information Commissioner should be given explicit powers to order the release of a record, and to penalize violators of the ATI Act and to require systemic changes in government departments to improve compliance;
  4. the government should establish a clear and comprehensive information management policy and administrative system to track and routinely disclose records, to ensure easy access to government information, and to assign clear responsibility for maintenance of records;
  5. funding to the access to information system and enforcement should be increased to solve backlog problems instead of increasing administrative barriers such as limiting requests in any way;
  6. a whistleblower protection law should be passed creating an office that whistleblowers can complain to about wrongdoing and that can provide protection from retaliation;
  7. penalties should be created for unjustifiable delays in responses to information requests; and
  8. fees for access should be lower overall, and standardized across the government.
In addition, the OGC paper criticizes the government's current Access to Information Review Task Force because it is made up of public servants from departments which are in a fundamental conflict of interest because they are regulated by the law, it has failed to disclose key information such as the results of its research, and it has failed to consult in a meaningful and open way with Canadians.

"The government is trying to manipulate the review of access to information issues to entrench government secrecy," said Conacher. "A more independent body should be empowered to conduct an open, full and fair review of the access system."

Open Government Canada is a nation-wide coalition of non-profit groups fighting government secrecy and pushing for greater access to public information.  OGC groups represent citizens, journalists, librarians and lawyers.

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Duff Conacher, Coordinator of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179

Democracy Watch's Open Government Campaign

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