Message from the Commissioner

Information is one of society’s most valuable assets. Access to government information is fundamental to democracy because it ensures that Canadians can hold their government to account.

The Access to Information Act was adopted in 1982. Much has changed within government since that time, including how the government is organized, how decisions are made and how information is generated, collected, stored, managed and shared. The Open Government movement has increased Canadians’ expectations and demands for transparency.

Persistent calls to reform the Act have been made ever since its adoption. In the 30-plus year history of the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, my predecessors and I have documented multiple challenges and deficiencies with the Act.  The Act is applied to encourage a culture of delay. The Act is applied to deny disclosure. It acts as a shield against transparency. The interests of the government trump the interests of the public.

To strike the right balance between the public’s right to know and the government’s need to protect limited and specific information, I am proposing a comprehensive modernization of the Access to Information Act. The 85 recommendations in this report are based on my Office’s own experience, as well as comparisons to leading access to information models in provincial, territorial and international laws.

My recommendations will address ways to modernize the Act:

  • To deal with the current realities and expectations of Canadians;
  • To simplify the administration and the application of the Act by focussing only on the interests that legitimately require protection;
  • To increase timeliness in the processing of access requests;
  • To permanently resolve recurring issues;
  • To align the Act with the most progressive and strongest laws in Canada and abroad; and
  • To maximize disclosure in line with a culture of openness “by default.”

A modern Act will only succeed, however, if there is a concomitant change in institutional culture from secrecy to openness, from delay to timeliness. I believe that implementing these recommendations will support true openness and accountability and allow the Government of Canada to achieve a meaningful "open by default" culture.

I wish to thank all of the former commissioners, all of our employees, past and present, and participants in the open dialogue consultation process, for contributing their ideas and insights to this much-needed modernization process.