General Questions

All submissions will be made available on the website, unless you ask that the information remains unpublished. However, please take note that the Office of the Information Commissioner is subject to the Access to Information Act. All information submitted to the OIC during the open dialogue can be subject of an access request.

It may take up to 48 hours for your comments and/or documents to appear on the website.

Right of Access

Right of Access The Access to Information Act provides the right to request and receive information held by federal institutions only to Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and individuals and incorporated entities present in Canada. The legislation does not grant universal access. Some argue that if foreign companies and individuals want to obtain access to federally held information, they can do so by engaging Canadian agents or information brokers. On the other hand, some observers are of the view that the concept of limited access cannot be sustained in the 21st century.

In an environment of increasing globalization, should any person be able to obtain government held records, notwithstanding their physical presence or citizenship?

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Coverage of the Act

Coverage of the ActAt present, the Access to Information Act does not apply to all federal agencies. Many organizations that spend taxpayers' money or perform public functions are not covered by the Act. For example, such organizations as the Canada Health Infoway, the House of Commons, the Senate, the Governor General and the courts are not subject to the Act. Among other things, these organizations argue that having to comply with the terms of the Act may compromise their competitive ability or operational effectiveness.  However, others argue that a piecemeal approach to deciding which organization becomes subject to the Act is incompatible with the spirit of the Act.

Should all federal entities be subject to the Act as a matter of principle, or should some be exempt from the Act’s requirements? What criteria or principles should determine which entity is covered by the Act?

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Limitations on the Right of Access

Limitations on the Right of AccessAll access to information legislation includes some limitations to the information that governments are required to make public. Information such as: Cabinet documents, information that could harm Canada’s security or economy, federal-provincial relations, personal information or international affairs. Some jurisdictions make more information available to the public than others. Some commentators argue that limitations to disclosure are necessary to limit the release of information that may cause prejudice or compromise the public or the national interest if disclosed. In fact, some records, by nature, are sensitive and should be protected. Other note that a presumption in favour of disclosure should prevail. They note that exemptions should only apply, on a case-by-case basis, in narrow and limited circumstances.

In what circumstances should a universal right of access be limited? Should federal institutions have the discretion to limit disclosure? If so, should they be required to demonstrate that a defined injury, harm or prejudice will probably result from disclosure? Should the public interest be considered in the decision to withhold records?

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Cabinet Confidences

Cabinet confidencesThe status of Cabinet confidences has been under constant debate since the inception of the legislation. Traditionally, the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy dictates that Cabinet is able to deliberate on policy issues in secrecy.  Therefore, at the time of the adoption of the Act, most records prepared for and created by Cabinet were excluded from its application. Some argue that making such information subject to the Act would inhibit Ministers to express their views freely during the discussions leading up to Cabinet decisions and erode the collective responsibility for Ministers. Others argue that public access to the information that informs Cabinet decisions should be public knowledge and point to the experience of other parliamentary democracies that have less restrictive rules regarding cabinet secrecy.

Should the Access to Information Act exclude records that directly inform Cabinet decisions? If the exclusion is permitted, on what should it be based? Should the Information Commissioner be able to review Cabinet confidences?

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Awareness and Education

Awareness and EducationObtaining access to information in government records is critical to the effective participation of citizens in the democratic process. Studies consistently re-affirm that Canadians generally lack awareness and understanding of the rights afforded to them by the legislation. Many Canadian and international access to information laws have incorporated an education and research component that explicitly empowers Commissioners to promote a public understanding of access rights and to conduct research into issues affecting the public’s right to know.

What role can or should the Office of the Information Commissioner play in helping Canadians to become more aware of their rights under the Access to Information Act?

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