Commons committee to study federal 'culture of secrecy' impeding access to information – National Post

Many users complain of lengthy delays, heavily blacked-out documents or blanket denials in response to their applications
Author of the article:
OTTAWA — The House of Commons information, ethics and privacy committee plans to look at Canada’s much-maligned access-to-information regime — the latest in a long line of studies of a system intended to make government more transparent.

Conservative MP Pat Kelly, the committee chairman, says the system is plagued by excessive delays and a culture of secrecy that has been “baking in for decades.”
Sign up to receive the daily top stories from the National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.
A welcome email is on its way. If you don’t see it, please check your junk folder.
The next issue of NP Posted will soon be in your inbox.
We encountered an issue signing you up. Please try again

The Access to Information Act allows people who pay $5 to ask for a range of federal documents — from internal emails and invoices to briefing notes and policy memos — but it has long been criticized as outdated and poorly implemented.

Federal agencies are supposed to respond within 30 days or provide valid reasons why more time is needed to process a request.

The law has not been significantly updated since its introduction 39 years ago, and many users complain of lengthy delays, heavily blacked-out documents or blanket denials in response to their applications.

The government says the performance standard for institutions is to respond to 90 per cent of access requests within the legislated timeline, including extensions.

Of 140 federal agencies that answered requests in 2020-21, 69 met this standard while 71 did not, principally due to “workload pressures within the organization,” the government says.

Problems with the access system have persisted for years, spanning both Conservative and Liberal governments, Kelly said.

“People still complain about about refusals, about the time backlog, and just about the general culture of secrecy,” he said. “And that has been a feature of the Canadian government for a very long time.”

Even so, Kelly accuses Justin Trudeau’s Liberals of failing to live up to their 2015 election promise to make government information open by default.

Federal officials have pointed to a growing number of access requests and the increasing complexity of applications.

“I think all the things that the government says in response to their critics are excuses,” Kelly said. “Surely they can they can figure this out, if there’s the will.”

Kelly is under no illusion that fundamental changes will take place overnight. “This has been baking in for decades,” he said. “You’re certainly not going to be able to flip a switch and instantly go from a culture of secrecy to a true culture of openness by default.”

Kelly said no hearing dates have been set as the committee is busy completing studies on facial recognition programs and RCMP use of surveillance technology.

The planned committee study comes as the federal government works to finish its own review of the access system that began more than two years ago.

Written and oral submissions to the federal review have called for expansion of the Access to Information Act, removal of numerous loopholes in the law, strict timelines for responding to requests and more resources to make the system work.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.

The Amazon Designer Spotlight has returned with a new slate of cool, up-and-coming Canadian designers to know.
5-star products from coast-to-Canadian-coast
A year-round air purifier that heats in winter and cools in summer
Brands large and small are evolving to offer recycled, repurposed offerings.
A new eau de parfum from the brand Paco Rabanne that’s billed as being “playful, sensual and empowered.”
Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.
365 Bloor Street East, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 3L4
© 2022 National Post, a division of Postmedia Network Inc. All rights reserved. Unauthorized distribution, transmission or republication strictly prohibited.
This website uses cookies to personalize your content (including ads), and allows us to analyze our traffic. Read more about cookies here. By continuing to use our site, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.



Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published.