The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) calls on all party leaders to explain how their government would implement long-overdue reforms to Canada’s archaic access to information system during tonight’s French-language and tomorrow’s English-language federal leaders’ debates being held at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec.
“Canadians’ right to know is so frequently poorly-served by our crumbling federal access to information system,” said CAJ president Brent Jolly. “Looking at the party platforms, there is scant mention of plans for reforms, which is a Houdini-like act of deception aimed at keeping citizens perpetually in the dark about how government decisions are made.”
The most recent example of the dysfunction of Canada’s ineffective access to information system was chronicled in a damning story by journalist Ian Young in the South China Morning Post last week. In his story, Young wrote about his five-year fight with the Canada Revenue Agency to obtain results of an investigation linking millionaire migration and suspected tax cheating to high home prices in Vancouver.
A review of the electoral platforms of all federal parties reveals only the Conservative Party of Canada and the Green Party of Canada make any explicit reference to the federal Access to Information Act.
The Conservative Party platform document states, if elected, their government would “fulfil the statutory obligations that this Liberal government has long ignored by conducting long-overdue reviews of the Lobbying Act and Access to Information Act to ensure that they are up to date and as strong as needed to earn the trust of Canadians.” They add their government would give additional powers to the Information Commissioner to order government departments to release information promptly and mandate Crown Corporations to publish more data in machine-readable formats.
The Green Party of Canada’s platform says that it would expand the Access to Information Act to include “the Prime Minister’s Office, minister’s offices, and administration of parliament.”
The platform documents for the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Quebecois, and the Liberal Party make no direct mention of reforms to the federal Access to Information Act.
During the 2015 election campaign, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party ran on a platform that promised to make “government information more accessible.” Just before the election call last month, the CAJ submitted a report to the Treasury Board Secretariat for its mandated review of the Access to Information Act that was critical of government inaction over many decades.
“After the big promises made during the 2015 campaign, we have barely scratched the surface in terms of modernizing a system that is still stuck in the 1980s,” said Jolly. “A functioning democracy thrives on a free-flowing stream of access to accurate information. Young’s story lays bare the real-world consequences of frequent and severe delays to information requests.”
At the beginning of the federal campaign, the CAJ, in tandem with more than a dozen other press freedom and public interest groups, including the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Canadian Media Lawyers Association, B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, and World Press Freedom Canada, submitted questionnaires to all federal party leaders. We look forward to sharing their submissions in the days and weeks to come.
The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing more than 1000 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.
For more information, please contact:
President, Canadian Association of Journalists