Information not free in Canada

“The Harper government is ignoring the urgent pleas of Canada’s
Information Commissioner to fix the broken system that governs
Canadians’ right to know, a regime where complying with the law is now
the exception rather than the rule,” starkly began a Globe and Mail news story about the latest report from the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada. Began The Toronto Star
story: “Canada’s Access to Information is plagued by long delays and
bureaucratic foot-dragging – a problem blamed on a lack of leadership
“at the highest levels of government,” the federal information watchdog
warned today.”

Information Commissioner Robert Marleau said Canada’s
access-to-information is plagued by “excessive delays and a law that
“has no teeth,” noted stories. The Globe reported that the minister
ostensibly responsible, Treasury Board President Vic Toews, ” dodged
questions” in the Commons about the problem, and 2006 Conservative
accountability promises. “Mr. Toews then ducked out a back door to
avoid reporters.”

Marleau’s report, statements in the Commons and quotes in stories noted that:

  • excessive delays in requests — which by law are supposed to be answered in 30 days — are now routine.
  • there are “no consequences” for government officials who don’t comply
  • The Harper government is not alone in failing to fix the 1983 law.
  • Cited “a lack of political leadership”
  • Noted Harper’s government differed from others because when it was elected it closed simple informal channels, forcing information seekers to make formal access requests.

Why did the Harper government break its accountability promise? Answered Marleau (quote in the Globe):

““It’s easy for a minister to stand
up in the House and explain that certain events in
access-to-information matters are the responsibility of the
bureaucratic administration and not the political domain. Especially
when they want to assure the population there’s no political
interference … On the other hand, it serves the political class well,
especially those in government, that it takes 120, 150, or 180 days
before information that is in the news now comes out in six months or
eight months.”