Statement for Right to Know Week

Tomorrow, freedom of information organizations and access rights advocates will mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information.

Here in Canada, Right to Know Week reminds all of us that the right of access, a quasi-constitutional right, must be safeguarded as a fundamental pillar of our democracy, even in the midst of a crisis. This is particularly true at a time when public trust is of vital importance in ensuring broad-based support for government actions that will enable us to chart a course for the future beyond the global pandemic.

And yet, the right of access continues to be imperilled by the deficiencies of the system I have investigated and reported upon over the course of my mandate. These include a lack of tools and processes to support Access to Informationissues related to leadership and organizational culture, the need to provide information through alternative means, and other matters detailed in my special reports to parliament as well as my Annual Report.

Earlier this year, I joined with my provincial and territorial colleagues to issue a joint resolution calling upon our respective governments to reinforce their access regimes. Shortly afterwards, I was pleased to be a signatory to the International Conference of Information Commissioners’ joint declaration on the importance of proactive disclosure of information relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The principles put forward in these statements are not new. I have articulated them in the past, as have many others. They include:

  • Information held by government or public institutions should be made available in a timely manner
  • The prompt and voluntary publication of information, without recourse to formal access requests, contributes to greater citizen participation and promotes better informed decision-making through increased scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of decisions.
  • Leaders must prioritize the modernization of systems and tools used in the processing of access requests as well as provide guidance and direction on the proper documentation and management of information within their institutions.
  • Institutions must recognize the importance of transparency, and uphold the right of access to information during an emergency by ensuring measures are put in place to process requests for access even during an emergency.

What’s more, many ideas and proposed actions associated with these principles do not require legislative change. Acting on them now would go a long way toward enhancing public engagement in government decision-making, which is important at all times, but in particular, during a global pandemic.

With leadership and a true commitment to upholding the right of access, change is possible. I stand with a growing chorus of stakeholders who are ready to support leaders who take on this challenge.

Caroline Maynard
Information Commissioner of Canada

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