Comparison targets

While all comparisons involve arbitrary aspects, they are focused on achieving consistency in information. The current study is true to that premise in its comparison of foreign consultations relating to access to information requests engaged by the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Mexico.Footnote 21

Access to information practices of the five countries may be divided into two separate categories. The U.S. (1966), New Zealand (1982) and Australia (1982) were among the first countries, as was Canada (1982), to implement legislative regulations on access to information. These countries have therefore gained very significant experience in that regard. The United Kingdom and Mexico have only recently joined the group, about a decade ago, with the push towards greater administrative transparency. Not only is their respective legislation part of the new movement in which new information technologies play a fundamental role, but it is also in keeping with trends in governance and accountability that have gained ground over the last two decades.

Interesting analogies may be drawn between Canada and the five North American and Oceania countries. As in Canada, two of them, New Zealand and Australia, have parliamentary systems that have been heavily influenced by the centuries-old British Westminster model, therefore inviting closer comparison. At the same time, the U.S., which invented the genre, practises federalism, as do Australia, Mexico and Canada.

The comparative approach taken therefore complies, to a significant degree, with the principles that govern this type of study and helps justify conclusions and analogies likely to shed a different, and brighter, light on the basic problem being studied: the impact of foreign consultations on DFAIT’s handling of access to information requests. The following diagram illustrates the fundamental characteristics of each country’s access to information regulations and provides a basis for understanding and evaluating their foreign consultation practices.

All five countries have access to information laws and regulations similar to those in force in Canada since 1982. The number of access to information requests submitted to their respective foreign affairs departments is clearly differentiated (Table 11).

Table 11: Access to Information Requests (Fiscal Year 2009)
Country Access Requests Received By Foreign Affairs in Each Country Unprocessed Cases at the End of the FY
United States 10,717 9,313
Australia 110 27
New Zealand + / – 200 0
United Kingdom 1,136 59
Mexico 1,595 --
Canada 665 229

A stark observation comes out of Table 11: Canada comes in second place, after the U.S., with regard to delays in processing directly submitted access to information requests.  

In short, we have five countries with five access to information laws based on a similar model.Footnote 22 They have comparable legislative systems that frame access to information, and like Canada, the countries being compared in this study all consult with foreign governments or international organizations.

Footnotes

Footnote 21

A summary description of access to information regulations in all five countries is provided in the appendix (pages 38-41).

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Footnote 22

Australia and the U.S. are currently putting their access to information legislation through a thorough review. Mexico and the United Kingdom have not yet completed the breaking-in period of their new legislation. Developments in all five countries considered in this comparison therefore warrant sustained monitoring.

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