FOI / RTI Realities Hinder But Do Not Stop Consideration of Reforms
Fighting for FOI / RTI reform over the 30 years of Canada’s Access to Information Act has proven to be a difficult task.
There are many roadblocks:
“Things are hitting rock bottom pretty good” …. In the quarter-century since the country’s ATI laws came into force, it has never been easy to get the bureaucracy and government to disclose sensitive, or potentially embarrassing information, (Rubin) notes. But now, it is next to impossible. When it comes to hot-bottom issues like climate change or Afghanistan, Rubin says, it seems Ottawa has perfected the ability to generate black holes-nothing escapes. There are literally 500 ways of saying no”.
May 12, 2010, Macleans Magazine, by Jonathon Gatehouse
Part of the problem is that Canadians are too complacent and too many myths have been spun about how well the Access to Information Act is working.
Now may not be the most opportune time to tackle full fledged comprehensive FOI / RTI reform like proposed in the Public Right to Know Act I had drawn up or from those drawn from other countries’ recent efforts (visit http://www.foiadvocates.net).
However, what may be useful to consider in Canada is a more modest strategy on several fronts towards gaining greater transparency. For consideration:
- adding pro-active disclosure clauses to current federal bills like the one on food safety.
- having Parliament’s Commons Access Committee conduct a review of the many secrecy provisions in federal acts towards restricting such overrides to access legislation.
- enhancing the independence and powers of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
- ending legal exclusions granted to cabinet confidences and making such confidences more restrictive and subject to legal review.
- reconsidering broad exemptions like policy advice and drastically altering them.
- enacting federal, provincial and international information disclosures codes.
- making the corporate private sector subject to access disclosure legislation too.
- strengthening whistle blowing legislation.
- making open data enhancements legal requirements.
- expanding open meeting requirements for federal agencies.
- having the Prime Minister and opposition leaders issue transparency directives.
The time for FOI / RTI reforms should never be passed up, even while there is resistance.