Information Commissioner to investigate muzzling of federal scientists after complaint and letter-writing campaign


This news release was covered by the following media outlets: Globe and Mail, Winnipeg Free Press, Vancouver Sun, Metro News, iPolitics, CBC.ca, Toronto Star, La Presse, Royal Society of Chemistry, Toronto Sun, Nature.com  and 30 other media outlets with 16 publishing the Canadian Press piece.


Canadians can push for much needed changes to Canada’s access to information laws through the letter writing campaign

Monday, April 1, 2013

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch expressed its pleasure with the fact that the Information Commissioner has officially confirmed they will conduct a full investigation into the muzzling of federal government scientists by the federal Conservative government.

The complaint was filed by Democracy Watch in collaboration with the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Clinic over new federal government policies that attempt to muzzle scientists.

“We’re very pleased with the fact that this investigation has been called and we will continue to push the Information Commissioner to get to the bottom of this situation, publicly release the results, and push the federal government to change these policies” said Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch. “We will also continue to push for the democratic changes to we need to Canada’s access to information law.”

Government secrecy is not just a federal government problem, and so Democracy Watch and the national Open Government Coalition it coordinates launched its national Open Government Action Alert which makes it easy for Canadians to send a letter to the federal Information Commissioner (who is currently consulting the public on needed changes to the federal Access to Information Act), and to key politicians across Canada, calling for changes to strengthen open government laws and enforcement in every jurisdiction.

Systemic problems in the federal government were revealed recently by Canada’s Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, who publicly criticized Canada’s access to information system highlighting that fewer requests were answered within 30 days in 2011-12 than during the previous year and about 15 percent of applications were being responded to late, even though government departments are able to grant themselves lengthy extensions.

In response to the many loopholes that exist in the access to information laws across Canada, and the lack of enforcement and lack of audits to ensure people are following the law in some jurisdictions, and, Democracy Watch and the Open Government Coalition call for the following 8 key changes:

  1. any type of record created by any entity that receives significant funding from or is connected to the government, or was created by the government and fulfills public interest functions, should be automatically covered by access to information laws and systems (as in the United Kingdom);
  2. all exemptions under access to information law should be discretionary, and limited by a proof of harm test and a public interest override (as in B.C. and Alberta);
  3. the access to information law and system should require every entity covered (as in the United Kingdom, U.S., Australia and New Zealand): to create detailed records for all decisions and actions and factual and policy research; to routinely disclose records that are required to be disclosed; to assign responsibility to individuals for the creation and maintenance of each record, and; to maintain each record so that it remains easily accessible;
  4. the access to information law and system should allow anyone who does factual or policy research for the government to speak to the media and publicly about the topic;
  5. severe penalties should be created for not creating records, for not maintaining records properly, and for unjustifiable delays in responses to requests;
  6. the Information Commissioner should be given explicit powers under the access to information: to order the release of a record (as in the United Kingdom, Ontario, B.C. and Quebec); to penalize violators of the law, and; to require systemic changes in government departments to improve compliance (as in the United Kingdom);
  7. funding to the access to information system and enforcement should be increased to solve backlog problems instead of increasing administrative barriers, and fees for access should be lower overall and standardized, and;
  8. Parliament must be required to review the ATI Act every 5 years to ensure that problem areas are corrected.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Tyler Sommers, Coordinator of Democracy Watch

Tel: 613-241-5179


Democracy Watch’s Open Government Campaign