(Updated November 2011)
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The culture of secrecy within governments:
In 1994, then-Justice Minister Allan Rock pledged to strengthen the federal ATI Act, but it was not until early 2001 that then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien set up a government task force to examine the flaws in the Act and the access system.
Chrétien was responding to pressure from a group of MPs, led by Liberal MP John Bryden, who had set up their own "MPs on Access Committee" and were pushing for changes to the Act and access system. In addition, in spring 2000 the Canadian Association of Journalists held a conference in Toronto inviting citizen groups to work together on the access to government information issue, and the Open Government Canada (OGC) coalition formed out of that conference and was also pressuring the federal government.
Unfortunately, the government's Access to Information Review Task Force was made up of public servants from departments which are in a fundamental conflict of interest because they are regulated by the law, failed to disclose key information such as the results of its research, and failed to consult in a meaningful and open way with Canadians.
The Access to Information Task Force's June 2002 report, which set out 139 detailed recommendations, did include the following positive general proposals. However, the Task Force failed to propose closing the following key gaps in the access law and system identified in OGC's July 2001 Position Paper (which set out 47 recommendations for changes), and in some areas the Task Force actually recommended weakening access rights.
As is often the case, the Task Force was just a delay
tactic, as the federal government failed to act on the
Task Force's report. In fact, in late 2001 the
government instead proposed new so-called "anti-terrorism"
laws to keep more information secret from the public.
Democracy Watch's Open Government Coalition has been formed to campaign for changes to Canada's access-to-information laws and systems. Becoming a member group of the coalition is very easy. Just sign on to the 7 Recommendations to Strengthen Canada's Access to Government Information System set out below and send a note stating that your group wants to join the coalition.
The Gomery Commission Inquiry into the Liberal government's sponsorship scandal, the Conservative government's Afghan detainee document disclosure scandal and the Conservatives' access interference scandal, among many other scandals involving unethical and secretive activities by politicians and lobbyists, have opened a window of opportunity over the next few years to strengthen government access-to-information laws.
Democracy Watch feels a common approach is essential on this issue. Every member of Parliament, even those in opposition, reached their position using the system that is currently in place. Most have an interest in keeping the loopholes in place, and it will take a large, broad-based coalition to convince the federal political parties that the system should be made more accountable and transparent.
While these changes may appear difficult to attain, the victories Democracy Watch has won by organizing the Canadian Community Reinvestment Coalition -- including our success in defeating the proposed bank mergers in 1998 -- as well as the changes Democracy Watch's Government Ethics Coalition and Money in Politics Coalition have already won, have taught us that broad-based coalitions can overcome even the wealthiest special interests.
We look forward to hearing from you.
If you have any questions, see more details on the Open Government Campaign page, and please don't hesitate to contact Democracy Watch at Tel: (613) 241-5179, Fax: (613) 241-4758, and Email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Former federal Information Commissioner John Reid released his version of a stronger Act in October 2005.
On November 4, 2005, the federal Conservative Party pledged to pass 52 measures to increase the ethics and accountability of the federal government as the first thing they will do if they are elected, including several measures to strengthen the federal government's access-to-information system.
However, the Conservatives' broke their election promises
by introducing and passing a so-called "Accountability
Act" in December 2006 that contained only 30 measures, and
many of those measures are weaker than promised. The
Conservatives only included one of their promised 8 open
government measures in the Accountablity Act.
To see Democracy Watch's news release about the Conservatives' broken promises, click here.
Commission Inquiry into the federal sponsorship
scandal also made recommendations to strengthen the Act
and access system in its final report released in February
In 2007, and again in February 2009, the NDP MP Pat
Martin introduced a private
member bill that includes the changes recommended by
former Information Commissioner John Reid.
Also in February 2009, current federal Information
Commissioner Robert Marleau released his 12
recommendations for strengthening the federal Access to Information Act
and enforcement system. The House Access, Privacy and
Ethics Committee issued a report
in June 2009 endorsing some of the recommendations, but
the Conservative government rejected
all the recommendations in December 2009.
In September 2010, information and privacy commissioners
for governments across Canada issued a call
for open government.
Other recent reports
by federal Information Commissioners highlighting how the
access-to-information system is in crisis have increased
In the 2011 federal
election, almost all the federal parties made open
government promises -- however, most of their promises
focused on making already publicly available information
more easily accessible, not on strengthening the ATI Act.
The federal Conservative government signed on to the
international Open Government Partnership in September
2011, and as a result they must make significant commitments
in order to be accepted by the OGP Steering Committee as a
member of OGP.
As a result, it continues to be very important to let all federal political parties know that Canadians want democratic reforms to open government rules and the enforcement system, and to continue push them to promise such reforms in their election campaign platforms.
The following 5 organizations make up the Open Government
Your organization can join the Open Government Coalition by sending an email to email@example.com signing on to the following 7 recommendations for strengthening the federal Access to Information Act (ATI Act) and access-to-information system in the following key ways:
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