Statement for Right to Know Week

It is has been 18 years since freedom of information organizations from 15 countries proclaimed September 28 as International Right to Know Day

In the years since, this date has been widely adopted by other jurisdictions. In 2019, a resolution of the UN General Assembly recognized September 28 as the International Day for Universal Access to Information.

Around the world, 127 nations have laws that guarantee their citizens’ right to access their government’s information. Although each of these countries has its own challenges in ensuring full and open access, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a challenge for all. 

Last March, as the world locked down, governments transformed their operations and, in their haste to adapt to the new reality, took a number of decisions in the area of information management and the right of access that have created many challenges for posterity. The Centre for Law and Democracy’s COVID Tracker contains a list of legal and formal measures governments around the world, including in Canada, have taken related to access to information during the pandemic, including suspending deadlines and closing offices entirely. 

The impact of these measures, often taken for expediency’s sake, has been profound. In late March, I committed publicly to maintaining my office’s operations and in April, I highlighted the importance of the right of access and of properly capturing and storing government records, especially during times of crisis.

Today, I join with the global access to information community in recognizing that the ability to access government information allows citizens to shine a light on government decision-making. In this spirit, I call upon our political leaders to be guided by the principles I articulated last July to safeguard the right of access in Canada:

  • The government’s pandemic response must not suspend the right of access as the need for transparency is all the more critical during this extraordinary time
  • Institutions must respond to the challenges large-scale telework presents to access
  • Innovation and new technological solutions are needed now
  • Canadians deserve bold and decisive actions

I often say that leadership is key to ensuring the access to information regime is open and transparent. Strong leaders within the public service are essential to implementing the measures required to live up to these principles.

International Right to Know Day is an opportunity not just to promote the right of access, but also to reflect on what we can do to ensure the right of access is not weakened, even in the face of a global challenge.

Caroline Maynard
Information Commissioner of Canada

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