Canada’s showing mediocre in international right to information survey

by Melissa Shaw

by Melissa Shaw

The first evaluation of right to information laws across 89 countries was released on September 28th, International Right to Know Day. Access Info Europe, based in Spain, and the Centre for Law and Democracy in Canada conducted the study. Canada ranked 42nd, in the middle of the group.

The rating was based on 61 indicators of international RTI standards, input from an international panel of experts on the Advisory Council and a comparative study of right to information laws from various countries.  Each country was given an over-all score out of 150 that included ratings in specific categories such as scope, requesting procedures, exceptions and refusals, and appeals.

Serbia ranked first with 135 points and Austria held last place with 39 points. The U.S scored 89 points compared to Canada's 85, but both countries fell into the middle range over-all. 

The results suggest that countries with younger RTI laws scored higher, which reflects the progress towards creating international standards that has been made over the past 20 years. These countries include Mexico, India and Slovenia, which have clear procedures for requesting information and strong oversight bodies. The lower scoring European countries such as Greece, Germany and Belgium reflect older laws which are limited in scope and have weaker appeals systems.

Executive Director of the Centre for Law and Democracy Toby Mendel stressed the importance of this study, “Effective protection of human rights like the right to information requires a sound legal basis. This rating tool enables us to pinpoint areas of weakness in the legal framework for RTI, and to direct future advocacy at resolving these.”

As J-Source previously reported, Newspapers Canada also released its sixth annual National Freedom of Information Audit results on September 27th, comparing the speed and quality of information obtained from various government sources.

The information requested was “straightforward” according to the report and included data on budgets and guidelines on the use of social media by employees. British Columbia had the slowest freedom of information response rate in the country because its maximum response time is 30 business days (which leads to a total of 42 days including weekends) as opposed to the other provinces which have a 30-day deadline. Newspapers Canada president and CEO John Hinds comments that for a journalist, "If it's going to take 42 days, your story's gone."

The report also praised Saskatchewan municipalities for releasing information about the expenditure of public money and treating those contracts as public records which the public has a right to see. It also noted that Charlottetown, P.E.I., and Moncton and Fredericton, N.B. responded to requests for information even though they are not formally covered by access legislation.