7. Protecting and promoting access

The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) protects and promotes access to information rights through a number of outreach activities.

Transparency for the 21st Century

“I am excited to gather all of your expertise and your commitment to government transparency in one place. All of you work in various ways to maximize access to information. Access to information specialists, open government advocates, open data architects, information management specialists, archivists, historians, journalists, indigenous rights, civil liberties and human rights defenders need to meet and share best practices and plan for the future. The work is too important, and too urgent, to continue to work in silos.”

–Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, Transparency for the 21st Century Conference, March 22, 2017

From March 21-23, 2017, the OIC hosted the Transparency for the 21st Century Conference.

Held at Library and Archives Canada, the conference brought together Canadian and international experts and advocates across various fields related to government transparency. The Commissioner’s vision for the event was to:

  • develop a strong transparency community by gathering all experts in one place;
  • create a common understanding of the right of access as a fundamental human right;
  • find a balance between transparency and required protections;
  • rethink transparency platforms in light of new technologies; and
  • facilitate an open dialogue for how access to information will keep pace with society.

The conference advanced each of these objectives, and best practices and future planning strategies were shared. The sense of community was apparent, and proved the group’s knowledge and strength could be leveraged collectively to advance access rights. The OIC will continue to promote collaboration of transparency experts.  

Gratitude is extended to the Department of Justice Canada, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Library and Archives Canada, the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom, the Library of Parliament and Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication for assisting with the conference.

A webcast of the two-day conference is available until March 2018 (Day 1 and Day 2).

2016 Grace-Pépin Access to Information Award Recipient

Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner for the United Kingdom, was the recipient of the 2016 Grace-Pépin Access to Information Award.

Ms. Denham has been a staunch advocate for access to information rights. She previously served as the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia. Throughout her 30-year career, Ms. Denham has made significant inroads to advance access to information. Notably, she increased access to the City of Calgary’s archives, published a report “Access Denied” following the triple delete scandal in British Columbia, and issued countless recommendations on the issues of timeliness, proactive disclosure, and greater reporting of information in the public interest.

Right to Know Week

Every year, Right to Know Week is celebrated across Canada to raise awareness about the right of all citizens to access government information. The week celebrates and also promotes freedom of information as essential to both democracy and good governance.

This year, the celebrations were held from September 26-30, 2016, anchored by International Right to Know Day on September 28, 2016.

Open and transparent government for all

The OIC’s Right to Know Week celebrations began on September 26, 2016 with a seminar, “Open and transparent government for all”. The event was organized with Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication and the School of Public Policy and Administration.

The seminar featured a keynote address by the Honourable Scott Brison, President of the Treasury Board. There were three panels with a diverse group of expert speakers who spoke about open government and access to information in the context of journalism, indigenous rights, national security, historical records, and at universities.

Toronto Star reporter studies access

Jayme Poisson, a Toronto Star reporter, was the recipient of the 2016 Greg Clark Award, which offers working journalists a chance to explore an issue in-depth. The award allowed Ms. Poisson to study access to information to gain a better understanding of access legislation. She spent some time at the OIC during Right to Know Week. 

Collaborating with federal, provincial and territorial commissioners

In November 2016, federal, provincial and territorial information and privacy commissioners convened in Toronto for their annual conference. Topics of discussion this year included legislative reform, challenges raised by changes in government, and extending access to information coverage to the offices of Ministers and the Prime Minister.

This conference allows the commissioners to share best practices, exchange information, and prepare joint resolutions on information rights of particular importance to Canadians.

“The Access to Information Act is clearly outdated and severely outranked nationally and internationally. Comprehensive reform of the Act is long overdue and should be undertaken promptly to meet the information realities of the 21st century.”

–Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, “The Act is ripe amendments”, June 2016

The Information Commissioner’s blog

The Commissioner’s blog was launched in early 2016 to engage directly with Canadians. She uses it to address topical and pressing access to information issues. Her blogs for the past year include:

“The next test, however, will be following through on those commitments in the fall by passing legislation the government has promised. That legislation will need to boldly address the growing expectations of the Committee, institutions, and access requesters.”

–Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, “Latest News! Positive advancements for access”, July 2016

  • The Act is ripe for amendments, June 2016
    The Commissioner sets out priority recommendations for the government’s first phase of legislative reform of the Access to Information Act.

“Events of the week raise awareness of access to information rights while promoting freedom of information as essential to both democracy and good governance.”

–Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, “Spotlight on Right to Know Week”, September 2016

  • Latest News! Positive advancements for access, July 2016
    The Commissioner shares the latest developments related to access, including a Parliamentary committee’s report with 32 recommendations to reform the Act, Treasury Board’s consultations on the government’s third Open Government Plan, additional temporary funding for the OIC, and the OIC’s new annual report.

“I hope our government does do better, because an open government is better for Canadians. I realize these changes won’t be simple. But I hope they’ll be bold.”

–Toronto Star Reporter Jayme Poisson, “Looking to a bold future for access”, September 2016

  • Spotlight on Right to Know Week, September 2016  
    The Commissioner highlights upcoming Right to Know Week events, such as the 2016 Information Summit and the “Open and transparent government for all” seminar.

“It has become evident that something needs to be done. A serious “culture of delay” had settled in and federal government officials regularly denied access to government information and documents. Somewhere along the way, legislation meant to open things up and ensure that citizens could benefit from information and keep government accountable, has produced a slow and arcane system that seems bent on denying access.”

–Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, “Will Canada turn the corner?”, October 2016

  • Looking to a bold future for access, September 2016
    Toronto Star reporter, Jayme Poisson, shares her views on the critical need for the modernization of the Act and a culture shift in the government toward openness and accountability.

“The strength of a democracy can be related directly to how much information is in public hands. Access to information has been called the single most important instrument (after elections) for ensuring accountability in a democracy. More information means better informed citizens participating in the democratic process.”

–Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, “Will Canada turn the corner?”, November 2016

  • Will Canada turn the corner?, October 2016
    Following the tabling of the Government Response to the Parliamentary committee’s report on reforming the Act, the Commissioner notes the positive steps the government has taken towards transparency, and the work yet to be done.

Other activities to protect and promote access rights

The Commissioner and her senior officials attended 26 speaking engagements and spoke to the media numerous times in 2016–2017. For a complete list of these and other outreach activities, see Appendix C.

Visits from international dignitaries

  • October 5, 2016: The Commissioner met with Aruna Roy of India’s Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan to discuss her oversight function.
  • December 13, 2016: The Commissioner welcomed a delegation from Mali. She shared best practices with the head of the delegation, Her Excellency Diarra Raky Talla, Minister of Labour and the Public Service. Mali is set to implement a national law on transparency.