Federal, Provincial, and Territorial Information Regulators Unite in Resolution to Enhance Access to Government Information
(Quebec City, October 4, 2023) — Federal, provincial and territorial Information Commissioners and Ombudspersons, signed a joint resolution today aimed at reinforcing the public's right to access government-held information.
Freedom of information regimes across Canada have faced persistent challenges in delivering timely responses to access to information requests, underscoring the need to implement alternative and efficient mechanisms for providing access to records, including through proactive disclosure.
It has never been more important for Canadians to have access to official government records, including historical records, if we are to maintain confidence in our democratic institutions. In our modern digital world, disinformation and misinformation spread very quickly. As recent news stories illustrate, timely access to accurate facts and reliable information is more critical than ever.
Recognizing the urgent need for change, the regulators are again calling upon their respective governments to modernize legislation, policies and information management practices to advance transparency and ensure the preservation and dissemination of Canada's documentary heritage, so that all Canadians can better understand the nation's past and present, and together chart a future path towards reconciliation.
Building on a joint resolution issued in 2019, the signing of this resolution by federal, provincial, and territorial Information Commissioners and Ombudspersons signals a renewed sense of urgency in a drastically changed context.
This resolution is a clarion call for federal, provincial and territorial governments to act swiftly and decisively in modernizing their respective laws, policies, and information management practices, to strengthen access to information regimes and support a culture of transparency across Canada.
For more information:
Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec
Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada
Facilitating Canadians’ access to government records to help restore trust in our institutions
Access to information systems across Canada are frequently unable to provide timely responses to access to information requests, and must be complemented by other appropriate or efficient mechanisms for providing access to records, including through proactive disclosure;
Previous calls for legislative reform, including a joint resolution issued by the undersigned in 2019, have largely failed to yield the necessary changes to the law that could bring about concrete improvements of the public’s right of access to government-held information;
Access to government-held records has become more critical now than ever in an era of misinformation – and disinformation – that exacerbates divisiveness and entrenchment of views and perspectives, undermines confidence in the legitimacy of democratic institutions, and causes greatest harm to our most vulnerable populations;
In order to restore a collective sense of social cohesion and trust in our public institutions, Canadians must be able to rely upon an accurate and truthful source of facts and evidence about present and historical events;
Access to our documentary history allows Canada to understand its past, to continue on the path to reconciliation and to look to the future;
Timely transfer of historical government records to public archival institutions enables archives to preserve, and facilitate access to, our documentary heritage and make this heritage known to Canadians;
Therefore, Canada’s Information Commissioners and Ombuds urge their respective governments to modernize legislation, policies and information management practices in order to uphold the following principles:
- The culture of public bodies/institutions must be founded on the fundamental principle that information under their control belongs to the people they serve, and should be made available by default, including through proactive disclosure, recognizing that the use of exemptions or exclusions from the right of access should be limited and specific;
- Public bodies/institutions must ensure the creation and retention of easily accessible records, regardless of medium, in order to document historical facts and decisions, preserve the truth for posterity, and counter the rising sources of misinformation or disinformation;
- Public bodies/institutions must recognize the unique barriers to access impacting Indigenous peoples and groups and actively work to advance reconciliation by respecting principles of data sovereignty and ensuring full and timely access to records that belong to them;
- Public bodies/institutions must prioritize good information management by investing in robust information management governance systems and programs, adequately resourcing their information management units, and empowering them to ensure that disposition schedules are adhered to by all;
- Public bodies/institutions must further invest in adequate training and education to ensure all public service staff, including political staff conducting government business, understand their roles and responsibilities regarding records retention and preservation;
- Public bodies/institutions must ensure that the use of application fees, where applicable, do not interfere with an individual’s right to access government records, considering that vulnerable groups or individuals may be disproportionately affected by costs imposed on the right of access; and,
- Public bodies/institutions must transfer information of historical importance to their respective archival organization on a timely basis, declassifying documents as appropriate before transfer in order to assist their handling and review, enable their preservation and facilitate public access to Canada’s documentary heritage.