CIPPIC Participates in Office of the Information Commissioner ATI Consultation

- 2013-01-31 -

In response to the desperately outdated nature of Canada's now 30 year old Access to Information Act, the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada has established an Open Dialogue Consultation on the need to modernize ATI. Once a global leader in thoughtful information policy, Canada has lagged behind its peers, including its provincial counterparts, who have enacted more sophisticated, modern and effective access to information regimes. Building on submissions from fellow organizations such as BCFIPA, CIPPIC participated in the OIC's consultation, calling for the Access to Information Act to be modernized. Specific modernizations include a more inclusive right that can be exercised by all individuals, a more principled definition of entities the types of entities to which the right applies, reduced barriers to ATI requests such as lower fees and the acceptance of digital requests, and a 'digital first' response policy that should lower ATI response costs. Importantly, exceptions should be narrowed and focused, and subject to an overriding analysis of whether withholding the information sought is in the public interest, or is necessary to prevent harm. Too often are exceptions relied upon to obscure information that Canadians have a right to know. The Information Commissioner also requires greater enforcement powers. 

More generally, the right to information needs to be conceived in broader terms than reflected in the ATIA. It needs to be exercised more proactively if it is to be achieve its objective within the context of a democratic and technologically innovative society. While the current ATIA focuses on information responses to individual requests, it should additionally obligate periodic and proactive disclosure of important public information. This proactive publication obligation should extend to important data sets in the government's control, so that downstream innovators, researchers and individual Canadians can fully benefit from data held and generated by their government. Government-held information is a national resource, generated by public officials in the course of carrying out their public mandates and, ultimately, paid for by public funds. The outdated nature of Canada's ATI regime has become a tangible obstacle to the ability of Canadians to fully benefit from this resource. Given Canada's commitment to Open Government and participation in the Open Government Partnership, it is now time to bring our right-to-information system forward into the twenty-first century. For more information, visit http://cippic.ca/open_governance.

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