Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner, Details Access to Information Review In Vancouver

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SUZANNE LEGAULT
Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada, speaks in Ottawa on May 31, 2012. Legault told a Vancouver conference she is reviewing the federal Access to Information Act. (Sean Kilpatrick, CP) | CP

VANCOUVER - The country's information commissioner is providing more details about her review of a federal law that allows citizens to access government documents.

Suzanne Legault, information commissioner of Canada, told a conference in Vancouver Wednesday that her review of the Access to Information Act will begin next week, will run mainly through her office's website and end on Dec. 21, before a report to Parliament is presented next year.

Since July 7, 1982 when it received royal assent, the act has never been overhauled but has had a few minor amendments.

"It used to be that my predecessors would be asked to attend international conferences in other jurisdictions to basically explain the great system that we had in Canada and, you know, what people should be doing in their own development of their own access regimes," she told the conference.

"Since I have been commissioner, when I am invited, I am invited to tell people what not to do."

Legault, who noted she has been forced to reduce her staff by 11 per cent next year because of budget cuts, said the review is necessary because the act is almost 30 years old and does not include a mandatory provision for review.

To keep pace with technological and international developments and to remain relevant, the act must evolve, she said.

She said she'll consult with experts, key stakeholders and average Canadians, draw on comparative research, as well as past reform efforts.

The review will focus on such issues as delays, exemptions, exclusions, roles and powers of her office and records and management, she said.

When she first announced the review in early July, Legault said she'll examine parallel laws and information regimes in Britain, the United States, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia for innovations.

Legault said Wednesday she will present a report to Parliament next year, coinciding with the act's 30th anniversary.

"The only thing that I can do is basically engage in a dialogue with stakeholders and have these submissions publicly available on a website, and then make recommendations to government as it is my job to do, and then hopefully some of this will be picked up," she said after her lecture.

Under the law, any person in Canada can request documents and other material under the control of a federal department or agency for a $5 application fee, plus any additional charges for photocopies or processing.

In June, a Halifax-based group ranked Canada 51st in the world on a list of freedom-of-information rankings, behind Angola, Colombia and Niger. Users have complained that Canada's system is rife with long delays, excessive redactions and few penalties for bad performance.

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