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6. Advocating for legislative reform
Significant and thoughtful proposals for reform have been made almost continuously over the last two decades, but very few have attracted parliamentary attention. For legislation like the [Access to Information Act], which the courts have affirmed is quasi-constitutional in nature, its continuing vitality now hinges upon meaningful reform efforts.
This past year marked the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Access to Information Act. Sadly, the occasion highlighted just how much the legislation lags behind provincial, territorial and international standards. It has remained static in a dynamic environment of massive technological changes, which have completely reconfigured the information landscape.
Yet, over the last two decades, much time has been spent on various studies of the legislation, and many proposals for reform have been presented. More than ever, the Act needs to be strengthened to reflect the realities that have taken shape since its adoption, and now is the time for action.
Throughout the year, we engaged in a dialogue with stakeholders, including access to information users and those who work in the field.9 We wanted to learn more about what the priorities for the modernization of the Act should be. We presented 12 recommendations stemming from this dialogue to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in March 2009 (see box).10 Our recommendations fall under a number of general themes: parliamentary review, providing a right of access to all, strengthening the compliance model, public education, research and advice, coverage and timeliness. This list of recommendations is by no means comprehensive. It includes only the most pressing matters for reform, in an initial effort to meet the urgent challenge of modernizing the Act without further delay.
The Access to Information Act 25 years later: Toward a New Generation of Access Rights in Canada, commissioned by the Office of the Information Commissioner, June 10, 2008, http://www.oic-ci.gc.ca/eng/pa-ap_acc-atia-ref.aspx
9 For more information, go to rrm-slr_consult_modern_2008-june_19_dialogue_on_modernizing_the_access_to_information_regime.aspx
Strengthening the Access to Information Act to Meet Today’s Imperatives, pa-ap-atia_reform_2009-march_2009-strengthening_the_access_to_information_act_to_meet_todays_imperatives.aspx
1. That Parliament review the Access to Information Act every five years
2. That all persons have a right to request access to records pursuant to the Access to Information Act
3. That the Access to Information Act provide the Information Commissioner with order-making power for administrative matters
4. That the Access to Information Act provide the Information Commissioner with discretion on whether to investigate complaints
5. That the Access to Information Act provide a public education and research mandate to the Information Commissioner
6. That the Access to Information Act provide an advisory mandate to the Information Commissioner on proposed legislative initiatives
7. That the application of the Access to Information Act be extended to cover records related to the general administration of Parliament and the courts
8. That the Access to Information Act apply to Cabinet confidences
9. That the Access to Information Act require the approval of the Information Commissioner for all extensions beyond 60 days
10. That the Access to Information Act specify timeframes for the Information Commissioner to complete administrative investigations
11. That the Access to Information Act allow requesters the option of direct recourse to the Federal Court for access refusals
12. That the Access to Information Act allow time extensions for multiple and simultaneous requests from a single requester
At year-end, the Standing Committee began hearings on the reform of the Act. The Commissioner appeared before the committee to discuss the recommendations. We will continue our efforts in this regard to impress upon the government the imperative for change.
Other proposed changes to the Act
We monitor Parliament’s activities for proposals to amend the Access to Information Act and advise on the implications of draft legislation on the right of access to information.
During 2008–2009, there were a number of bills at various stages that proposed amendments to the Access to Information Act. See Appendix 3.