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Changing the Guard

In this reporting year, the term of Canada’s third, and longest serving, Information Commissioner, the Hon. John M. Reid, P.C., came to an end. During his thrice-extended term of office, from July 1, 1998 to September 30, 2006, Mr. Reid earned a reputation for courage and tenacity in the enforcement of the Access to Information Act (the Act). Canadians owe him a debt of gratitude. Indeed, for this new Commissioner, whose term commenced on January 15, 2007, it is humbling and inspiring to follow in the footsteps of his three predecessors, Inger Hansen, John Grace, and John Reid, all of whom earned reputations for integrity and professional excellence.

Especially, it is a privilege to be entrusted with the institutional obligation to nurture and enforce such an important pillar of our democracy - the right to know! The courts refer to this right as "quasi-constitutional"; the report of the first Parliamentary review termed it of "similar significance" to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as instruments with which to strengthen Canadian democracy.

Since the Actcame into force on July 1, 1983, the right of access has become more and more entrenched in the operations of government. There is more transparency and, hence, accountability in government. No, it is not always easy for Canadians to stomach what they see through the windows into government opened by the access law, nor for public officials to govern in a fishbowl. Yet excessive secrecy would be even harder to digest; our democracy is all the more vibrant for the legally enforceable right we Canadians have to go behind the "stories" governments choose to tell us, to obtain source documents, and to explore the stories which all governments store in dark corners.

Despite much progress since 1983, there remain impediments to the full realization of Parliament’s intent as expressed in the Act. Too often, responses to access requests are late, incomplete, or overly-censored. Too often, access is denied to hide wrongdoing, or to protect officials or governments from embarrassment, rather than to serve a legitimate confidentiality requirement. Year after year, in the pages of these reports, information commissioners recount what is going wrong and offer views on how to make it right.

This Commissioner is pledged to assisting governments to do better, and requesters to fare better, when administering and using the Act. He is also pledged to assisting Parliament in playing its vital role of holding ministers and officials to account for the good administration of the Act, and of keeping the Act itself effective and up-to-date.

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