What the Access Process involves.
First generation access to information laws are limited but nonetheless a means of testing for and obtaining information from governments.
Getting results requires a strong will, curiosity and skills. Agency fees can vary and service too dependent with which department and jurisdiction you deal.
Stages of Access
The access process is unduly complicated but normally consists of four stages that I would be undertaking for you.
Stage One – The Framing Period
This is the key period where you determine what you want. It is important to spend the time drafting and discussing your request.
Stage Two – The Waiting/Watchdog Period
Just what is happening to your application? It pays to keep on top of time deadlines, check out fee estimates and negotiate for a better response.
Stage Three – The Review Period
You now have the response – analyse it for content, exemptions, authenticity.
Stage Four – The Follow-up/Use Period
File any complaints or appeals or further information requests if necessary. Assess how best to make use of the data received. Note departmental inconsistencies and share problems you encountered with others.
Here is a short list of tips in making access to information requests:
- Identify the target department and ensure that it is the correct one (for example, is Health Canada the agency responsible for developing Canada’s Food Guide?)
- Ask for specific records related to a specific time period. What submissions were made concerning Canada’s Food Guide? Were internal studies conducted? Focus groups? What costs were involved?
- File your request (this costs $5 federally in Canada), and indicate you want to be contacted when the request is received.
- Be persistent and monitor progress. Has the agency gone to the appropriate branches? What’s delaying the response? Why are fees so high? Keep a log of the service you receive.
- Check what’s been received. Why is the correspondence, from the food industry missing? The exemptions that prevented the release of documents on policy advice or commercial confidentiality need an explanation.
- Review whether you need to appeal. If crucial data are withheld, seek help from the Information Commissioner.
- Don’t stop there. Ask for further details, and then publicize the information you have received – or the failure of the agency to provide it.
- Remember, what it takes to engage in access is a curiosity with a good dose of persistency. Keep fine tuning your information seeking skills and don’t stop going after essential data you need.
“Ken Rubin’s work helped Transport Action uncover Amtrak’s biggest obstacle to adding a second daily Seattle-Vancouver train. The documents showed the Canadian Border Security Agency was responsible for months and months of delays. Rubin’s Access To Information documented the CBSA demand Amtrak pay a $1,500 per train “facility fee”. A broad coalition pressured the agency to hold off on the charge until the Olympics. To date no final decision has been made. Transport Action continues to protest CBSA’s imbalance in its treatment of modes i.e. airlines don’t have to pay CBSA to inspect passengers.”
“On behalf of MiningWatch Canada, I would like to express our appreciation for the valuable skills and support that Ken Rubin brings to filing and pursuing the results of Access to Information requests in Canada for organizations like our own.”
Latin America Program Coordinator
August 21 2015
“Ken Rubin, one consistent champion of the right to know, is “a prominent, persistent and retentive user of the Act – he is a skilled traveller through the administrative maze of the Act.” Dan Dupuis, former Director of Complaints and Investigations, Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, December 6, 2007 remarks on the 25th anniversary of Canada’s Access to Information Act.”
former Director of Complaints and Investigations, Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada,
December 6, 2007 remarks on the 25th anniversary of Canada’s Access to Information Act.
“He requests, he demands, he cajoles and he insists. He holds institutions accountable to the legislation. He has taken bureaucrats to task and has taken institutions to court in order to access records and obtain information. He has demonstrated an exceptional contribution, spanning decades, to the promotion of openness and transparency.”
Coordinator, Access to Information and Privacy
National Capital Commission
August 24, 2015