Canada's Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, says the current federal government is "not the most transparent" and that response to requests for Access to Information is now at a record low.
"We are at a record low in terms of timeliness," Legault told CBC Radio's Sunday Edition. "The percentage of information being disclosed is also low."
Legault, who has been at her job for three years, says her office — which suffered an 8 per cent budget cut — has dealt with about 7,000 complaints with another 2,000 left to go.
"In the recent statistics provided by the government, requests for extensions [by departments] are at a record high."
Departments are required by legislation to respond to a request within 30 days. They can, however, also ask for an extension of that deadline. In 2011, less than 20 per cent of requests made to federal departments and agencies were met with full disclosure.
The most notable one is the ministry of defence, which asked for a 1,110-day extension on one request. That situation, said Legault, is now before Federal Court.
"I don't have order-making power. I only have recommendation power," she noted.
Legault says Canada's legislation, created in the 1980s, has not been updated.
- THE SUNDAY EDITION: Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault
"Generally, countries which have amended their legislation since 2000 include more modern elements ... the U.K. and Australia have given their commissioners order-maker power," said Legault.
Indeed, Canada has fallen behind. Legault points out that Canada's legislation was the envy of the world — back in the 1980s. Now, other commissioners ask her "what to avoid" when she meets them at conferences.
An international report last year ranked Canada 55th out of 93 countries in terms of its access to information laws. Serbia placed at the top.
'Canadians should be angry'
According to a report card issued by Legault last year on the timeliness that requests were fulfilled, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the department of Northern and Indian Affairs, and Transport Canada were given "F" grades.
Legault points out the report card only dealt with the time issue and not disclosure — and on this front the Department of Defence was at the bottom of the class.
"It prevents Canadians from holding governments to account — especially in the way they respond to crises."
The information commissioner says Canadians should be concerned about how the government handles issues such as health, environment and natural resources.
Legault, who is asking the public for input to amend current legislation, says the federal Tories aren't putting enough resources toward responding to Access to Information requests.
"Canadians should be angry," she said. "It's really a fundamental democratic right in Canada [and] it's linked to freedom of expression."
Canada drops in media freedom survey
In a report by Reporters Without Borders, a ranking of countries on its media freedom survey dropped Canada 10 positions from the previous survey to No. 20 out of 90. The top three countries are: Finland, the Netherlands and Norway.
The Press Freedom Index looked at various criteria, from legislation to violence against journalists. The U.S. climbed 15 places to land at No. 32.
The report noted that Canada lost "its status as the western hemisphere's leader to Jamaica (No. 13). This was due to obstruction of journalists during the so-called 'Maple Spring' student protests and to continuing threats to the confidentiality of journalists' sources and internet users' personal data, in particular, from the C-30 bill on cyber-crime."
Legault says she'd like to see Canada become the envy of the world again in terms of this.
"We need more voices to weigh in. It's a very important right and we must fight for it."
Committed to openness
In an email to CBC News, the office of the Treasury Board, responded to Legault's remarks.
"Our Government is committed to openness and transparency and we continue to take Canadians’ right of access very seriously," said the statement from Matthew Conway, representing Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board.
The statement pointed out that the Commissioner has noted the “measurable improvement across the system," and referred to a significant reduction in backlogged requests and a 58 per cent drop in complaints in 2011-12.
"The Government completed 43,664 access to information requests in 2011-12, nearly double that of a decade ago, according to the Info Source: Statistical Reporting Bulletin. And while the complexity of each request has increased substantially due to evolving digital technology, there has been a steady decline in requests taking longer than 120 days to complete, from a high of 13.2 per cent six years ago to 10.5 per cent in 2011-12."
Related on HuffPost:
BLACHFORD LAKE, NT - JULY 5: Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge eat a lunch of Arctic Char with members of the Canadian Rangers (L) and Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay (C) and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq (R) on July 5, 2011 in Blachford Lake, Canada. The newly married Royal Couple are on the sixth day of their first joint overseas tour. The 12 day visit to North America is taking in some of the more remote areas of the country such as Prince Edward Island, Yellowknife and Calgary. The Royal couple started off their tour by joining millions of Canadians in taking part in Canada Day celebrations which mark Canada's 144th Birthday. (Photo by Andy Clark-Pool/Getty Images)
IVANO-FRANKIVSK, UKRAINE: Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay (2nd R) and Ukrain's First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko (C) hold hands with unidentified women during a concert at the children camp of Vorohta, near the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk, 17 July 2007. MacKay, on a three-day official visit to Ukraine, visited the camp for orphans which is sponsored by the Ukrainian diaspora of Canada with Canadian students working with the children for the summer. AFP PHOTO/ PRESIDENTIAL PRESS-SERVICE POOL / MYSHKO MARKIV (Photo credit should read MYSHKO MARKIV/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, right, speaks with Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay during a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. NATO's foreign ministers, in a two-day meeting, will review progress in Afghanistan, plans for a missile defense system, and troubles in Kosovo. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 11: A member of the British Battle Back athletes (R) looks on while scrimmaging against Peter Mackay, Canadian Minister for National Defence, and teammate on the military personnel from the Wounded Warrior and Soldier On programmes during a Sledge Ice Hockey scrimmage before the start of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympic Games at GM Place on March 11, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/British Paralympic Association via Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BC - MARCH 11: Canadian Minister for National Defence Peter Mackay is presented with a Canadian Paralympic Sledge Ice Hockey Jersey to participate in the scrimmage between the British Battle Back athletes and the military personnel from the Wounded Warrior and Soldier On programmes before the start of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Paralympic Games at GM Place on March 11, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/British Paralympic Association via Getty Images)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian Defence minister Peter Gordon MacKay arrive to attend the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting on the last day of the NATO summit at the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest on April 4, 2008. The decision of NATO leaders to refuse Georgia's and Ukraine's bid for membership shows that the military alliance listened to Moscow's views, Russia's ambassador to NATO said on April 4. AFP PHOTO ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 21: Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shake hands at a news conference after a bilateral meeting and working lunch at the State Department December 21, 2006 in Washington, DC. Both officials said they discussed the case of Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar, who has been cleared by a Canadian judiciary inquiry of being a terrorist but continues to be on the American watch list. In 2002 the U.S. handed Arar over to Syria, where he was tortured repeatedly until he was released in 2003. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R) and Defence Minister Peter MacKay (L) arrive at the Parliament in Bucharest on April 3, 2008 to attend a formal working session on the second day of the Nato Summit. NATO leaders begin negotiations in earnest over Afghanistan on April 3, 2008 after the opening day of their summit in Bucharest saw a successful French offer of more troops, but a public disagreement over the alliance's enlargement. AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington, UNITED STATES: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (C), Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay (R) and Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa Cantellano (L) 06 July 2007 make their way to pose for a photo during meetings at the State Department in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, left, speaks with Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay during a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012. NATO defense ministers will discuss possible changes to the alliance's strategy in Afghanistan after the U.S. and France called for speeding up the handover of combat roles to local forces. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - JANUARY 10: (ISRAEL OUT) In this handout image supplied by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Canadian Defence Minister Peter McKay during a meeting on January 10, 2011 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by GPO via Getty Images)
RAMALLAH, WEST BANK - JANUARY 12: In this handout photo provided by the Palestinian Press Office (PPO), Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greets Canadian Defence Minister Peter McKay, on January 12, 2010 in Ramallah, West Bank. (Photo by Thaer Ganaim/PPO via Getty Images)
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton attends a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council as European foreign ministers gather amid concerns that Russia plans countermeasures to NATO's own ballistic missile defense system, in Brussels, Belgium, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011. From left are British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and Canada's Defense Minister Peter MacKay. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened last month to deploy missiles to Kaliningrad and other areas of Russia to be aimed at U.S. and NATO missile defense sites in Europe, unless a deal is reached assuaging Russian concerns. Russia is not a member of NATO. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)
ARLINGTON, VA - SEPTEMBER 28: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (L) and Canadian Minister of National Defense Peter MacKay (R) arrive at a joint news conference at the Pentagon September 28, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia. MacKay is on a visit to Washington and had a meeting with Panetta earlier. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, VA - SEPTEMBER 28: Canadian Minister of National Defense Peter MacKay speaks as he participates during a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the Pentagon September 28, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia. MacKay is on a visit to Washington and had a meeting with Panetta earlier. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)