In his first annual report, the new federal Information Commissioner Robert Marleau concludes that a great many Canadian government agencies show a serious lack of transparency when it comes to access to government documents under the Access to Information Act.
“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”.
In theory, for five bucks, any Canadian can ask federal agencies for a range of files, from expense reports to briefing notes. Agencies are supposed to respond within 30 days, or at least provide good reasons why they need more time.
In a series of departmental report cards, Marleau gives an F grade to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Privy Council (the internal administration that serves the prime minister and federal cabinet), the Border Services Agency, Health Canada and, sad to say, Justice Canada.
The failing mark was awarded to all agencies which did not meet the legally mandated maximum response deadlines for more than 20% of the information requests received.