Enhance access to information - Commitment 1

Lead implementing department(s)
Treasury Board Secretariat
Justice
Privy Council Office
Pillars
Foundational
Reporting period

Mid-term (July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017)

Commitment description

What is the public problem that the commitment will address?

Canada was an early adopter of access to information legislation, first introducing the Access to Information Act in 1983. The Access to Information Act maintains openness and transparency by serving the important public interest of enabling public debate on the conduct of government institutions, in turn strengthening the accountability of the Government of Canada to Canadians. In recent years, the need to update the Act has been noted during open government consultations and by the Information Commissioner as well as other stakeholders. It has not been significantly updated since 1983.

What is the commitment?

The Government of Canada will move forward on a first round of concrete proposals to improve the Access to Information Act, informed by the views of Parliament, the Information Commissioner, and consultations with Canadians, and will then undertake a full review of the Act by no later than 2018.

How will the commitment contribute to solve the public problem?

The Government’s commitments to improve the Act in the near term include:

  • Making government data and information open by default, in formats that are modern and easy to use;
  • Eliminating all fees, except for the initial $5 filing fee;
  • Providing requestors with a written explanation when information cannot be released;
  • Giving Government institutions and the Information Commissioner authority to decline to process requests that are frivolous or vexatious;
  • Giving the Information Commissioner the power to order the release of government information;
  • Ensuring that the Access to Information Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts;
  • Undertaking a mandatory legislative review of the Access to Information Act every five years; and
  • Strengthening performance reporting on the Access to Information program.

To make early progress on these commitments, on May 5, 2016 the Government of Canada issued an Interim Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act. The Directive sends a strong message across federal institutions that government information belongs to the people it serves and should be open by default. It emphasizes that government information should be available to the public, except in very limited and specific situations when it must be protected for reasons such as privacy, confidentiality, and security. The Directive also directs federal officials to:

  • waive all Access to Information fees apart from the $5 filing fee; and
  • release information in user-friendly formats (e.g. spreadsheets), whenever feasible.

Relevance to OGP values

This commitment relates to the OGP values of transparency, civic participation, and public accountability.

Status update

Deliverables in Action Plan

  1. Seek input from Parliament, the Information Commissioner, stakeholders and through consultations with Canadians on how to revitalize access to information.
  2. Introduce legislation to move forward on improvements to the Access to Information Act.
  3. Once this first round of improvements has been implemented, undertake a full review of the Access to Information Act.

Expected result

Canadians will have timely access to government information. This will make government more accountable to Canadians and enhance democratic participation.

Description of results

  1. Feedback from a consultation on the Government of Canada’s proposals to revitalize access to information was summarized in a What We Heard report published online on October 19, 2016.

    On October 17, 2016, the Government tabled its response  to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics’ June 2016 report.

  2. On June 19, 2017, the Government introduced legislation in the House of Commons to modernize the Access to Information Act, expand the scope of the law and make more government information open by default (see the news release). The Government’s proposals would break new ground by:
    1. Giving the Information Commissioner increased powers, including:
      • the ability to order the release of documents following an investigation of a complaint; and
      • the authority to give orders related to fees, access in the official language requested, format of release for accessibility purposes, time extensions and decisions by government institutions to decline to process requests.
    2. Creating new requirements for the proactive publication of a broad range of information. Requirements are extended to more than 240 government institutions, including the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ offices, Members of Parliament and Senators, as well as institutions that support Parliament and the courts.
    3. Improving the way government information is provided to Canadians by allowing government institutions to work together to process requests more efficiently, and for the government institutions to provide written explanations when information is not disclosed to requesters.
    4. Giving government institutions the authority to decline to act on requests:
      • that are overly broad;
      • for which information is already available;
      • when responding would unreasonably interfere with the operations of a government institution; and
      • that are vexatious, made in bad faith or are an abuse of the right to make a request for the access of records.
  3. No action taken on this deliverable to date.

Next steps to June 2018

  1. N/A - completed
  2. N/A – completed
  3. The proposed amendments to the Access to Information Act will go through the various stages of the legislative process and must be approved by both Houses of Parliament to receive royal assent. Development of an implementation plan for the proposed amendments to the legislation has begun.

    Bill C-58 (an Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts) proposes a review of the Access to Information Act every five years, with the first review to be initiated within one year of the legislation receiving royal assent.

Completion level

  1. Completed
  2. Completed
  3. Not started