Four federal parties have responded to questionnaires submitted on behalf of more than a dozen press freedom and public interest advocacy groups, including the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), to explain how their governments would implement long-overdue reforms to Canada’s archaic access to information system.
Each federal party was sent a survey containing five questions ranging in subject from how their party would amend laws to provide greater access to records, ensuring the Information Commissioner has authority to independently review decisions, and addressing exemptions used to delay the release of critical public interest information.
The Liberal Party of Canada, the Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party of Canada, and the Bloc Québécois all responded to the questionnaires. You can read each of their responses by clicking on the hyperlinked text of each party’s name. Neither the Green Party of Canada, nor the People’s Party of Canada responded to the survey.
Dean Beeby, an Ottawa-based independent journalist, and a specialist on freedom of information, has written a short overview of the responses:
The five questions focused on needed reforms to the Access to Information Act, a law widely regarded as outdated and in need of a major overhaul.
The Liberal Party’s response did not directly address the questions. Instead, the party cited Bill C-58’s “significant” amendments to the Access to Information Act, introduced by the Liberal government and passed by Parliament in 2019. The response also referred to a government review of the Act launched in 2019, the report of which is due by Jan. 31, 2022.
The Conservative Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party of Canada and the Bloc Quebecois all grappled in some measure with the questions posed and provided relevant responses. The answers range from vague to specific.
It is noteworthy that all three of these parties commit to strengthening the powers of the Information Commissioner of Canada to order the release of information that the government prefers to withhold. They also agree that the secrecy of cabinet information needs to be challenged, though in differing ways. Two of the three – the NDP and the Bloc Quebecois – also make reference to the long-unmet information needs of Indigenous communities in Canada.
The response from the New Democratic Party contains the most specifics vis a vis the questionnaire, including broadening the Act to allow requestors access to records in ministers’ offices, including the Prime Minister’s.
“The mere fact that so many associations and civil society organizations have banded together to express their frustrations with the current state of access to information, at the federal level, should speak volumes about the historic inertia plaguing the system,” said Brent Jolly, CAJ president.
“Decades of promises from different political parties have not resulted in improvements. At the end of the day, the public’s right to know is undercut and weakened by a ceaseless tradition of government obfuscation.”
Other organizations involved in developing the questionnaire include: World Press Freedom Canada, the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Canadian Media Lawyers Association, and the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association.
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