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Trudeau Liberal government must now make access to information law changes called for in its own public consultation

Liberals also need to make other key open government changes to end secret lobbying, end secret investments by politicians, their staff and Cabinet appointees, and strengthen whistleblower protection

Thursday, December 23, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch responded to the report released by the Trudeau government yesterday afternoon containing the results of its public consultation on the Access to Information Act (ATIA). The report is a loud and clear call from all stakeholder groups and the public for key changes to close loopholes in the ATIA and strengthen the Information Commissioner’s enforcement powers.

“The public and experts have loudly and clearly called once again, as they have for decades, for key changes to close loopholes in the federal access to information law, and strengthen enforcement,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The Trudeau Liberals must now stop their spin, lame excuses and unjustifiable delays and introduce a bill as soon as Parliament opens again in February to make the key changes that voters want to strengthen the access to information law and enforcement.”

“The federal access to information law is so full of loopholes that it really is just a guide to keeping information secret that the public has a right to know, and the key changes that the public is calling for will, if the Trudeau government implements them, make the law more effective,” said Conacher.

The changes loudly and clearly called for in the report on the Trudeau government’s public consultation on the ATIA are as follows, in order of importance in terms of making the ATIA effective:

  1. Expand the ATIA to cover any organization that performs a public function or receives significant public funding;
  2. Expand the ATIA to cover the Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Ministers’ offices;
  3. Require all government institutions and organizations covered by the ATIA to create detailed records of all actions and decisions;
  4. Expand the requirement to proactively publish records in Part 2 of the ATIA, and give the Information Commissioner the power to do disclosure audits;
  5. Narrow down the huge loopholes in the ATIA that allow advice to Cabinet and Cabinet confidences to be kept secret, and narrow down all other exemptions and exclusions, and give the Information Commissioner the power to review all requested records to prevent abuse;
  6. Set strict time limits in the ATIA on all extensions that go beyond the requirement to disclose records within 30 days of receiving a request;
  7. Add a public interest override (as in Alberta and B.C.) to the ATIA to ensure public interest information is always disclosed;
  8. Increase resources, training and technology support for ATI officers, and eliminate the $5 request fee;
  9. Significantly reduce the 20-year period during which Cabinet records and other information can be kept secret, including creating a system for declassifying records that have been designated as “classified” and;
  10. Allow people from outside Canada to file requests for information.

Despite committing to make government information “open by default” in their 2015 federal election platform, the Trudeau Liberals have broken almost all of their open government promises, and have shown little interest in strengthening the ATIA. The Liberals made no ATIA promises in their 2021 election platform, and made no commitments in their new National Action Plan for the international Open Government Partnership process. Also, Treasury Board Minister Mona Fortier’s statement on the release of yesterday’s report commits only to a “review of access to information” not to making changes.

The Trudeau Cabinet’s Bill C-58 changing the federal Access to Information Act ignored many of the recommendations made in the unanimous June 2016 report of the House of Commons Access, Privacy and Ethics Committee, and was actually a step backwards in some ways.

Democracy Watch and its Open Government Coalition have been pushing to strengthen the Access to Information Act for years, including through a global coalition open letter in 2017, as have opposition MPs and the Information Commissioner. Democracy Watch’s coalitions have also been pushing for years for key transparency and integrity changes to the federal Lobbying Act, Public Servants Disclosure Protection Act, and Conflict of Interest Act and related MP and Senate ethics rules.

“The Trudeau Liberals broke most of their promises to close loopholes in Canada’s open government law, and strengthen transparency rules for government spending, and they have done nothing to strengthen protections for whistleblowers who report government wrongdoing nor to close loopholes that allow secret lobbying and secret investments by politicians, staff and Cabinet appointees,” said Conacher.

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

Democracy Watch’s Open Government Campaign, Protect Whistleblowers Campaign, Government Ethics Campaign