On July 1, Canada celebrated the birth of our country, as well as the 30th anniversary of the proclamation of the federal Access to Information Act. Both celebrations serve to remind us of our precious heritage, shared values and well-earned reputation as a nation devoted to human rights, freedom of speech and democratic traditions.
Thirty years ago, a variety of opinion leaders, academics, government experts and legislators worked together to enact groundbreaking legislation that would assert the citizen’s right to access information generated by governments. They did this because they believed firmly that protected and assured access would enhance the quality of our democratic institutions and keep governments accountable. They saw this as a fundamental right of citizenship.
Then, and now, it was understood that access to information encourages civic engagement and empowerment. When valuable government information is released, benefits accrue to Canadian industries, the media and all citizens.
This anniversary year – for both the legislation and the Office – is a time for acknowledging the contributions of those who have devoted their time and energy to promoting public access to information in this country, and to recognize all of the remarkable staff at the Office of the Information Commissioner, both past and present, as well as the four previous Commissioners. Their commitment continues to inspire all Canadians to realize their vision of a truly open government.
After thirty years, however, we still have unfinished business. We have witnessed steady erosion of our access rights. A variety of constraints and practices hold us back from realizing the benefits of a truly open system.
There is little doubt that an updated legislative framework is essential given the evolving technological and information landscape, and the expectations of Canadians.
Legislative change can also herald a new era and culture of transparency that would align the Act with the vision of its original architects and more modern and progressive standards.
To bring the Act into the 21st century, the Office launched an open dialogue initiative under the banner of “Modernizing the Access to Information Act” in September 2012. Using this vital input, as well as thirty years of experience, our goal is to provide recommendations to parliamentarians, by the fall of 2013, so they can update the Act and reclaim Canada’s leadership status in the world.
With 30 years of experience in our back pockets, it is time to talk again about the value we place on unfettered access to government information. It is time to reassert that access is fundamental to the health of our democracy. And, it is time for the legislation’s champions, old and new, to recommit to the cause of transparency and accountability.