12/03/2012 01:55 EST | Updated 02/02/2013 05:12 EST

Give the Gift of Transparency This Holiday Season


Courtesy of Canada's Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, we've all received an early Christmas gift — an important opportunity to have our voices heard on the issue of our ever-dwindling access to information rights.

Since September, Legault has been running a broad public consultation, seeking out suggestions for how to modernize our woefully out-of-date Access to Information Act (ATIA). Any individual or organization can participate, but your chance to speak up ends soon. Submissions to the consultation process close just before Christmas on Friday Dec. 21.

It's pretty easy: Just visit fill out the form here. You can complete as many or as few of the questions as you like, and once you hit "submit," your thoughts on how the Access to Information Act can better serve Canadians will go directly to the commissioner's office.

The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has put together a fairly extensive submission that outlines both long-standing and emerging problems with Canada's federal access regime. We invite you all to take a look at what we've sent in. Maybe you agree with us, or maybe you're downright opposed. Either way, please take a bit of time and send Legault your views on what needs to be done.

The annual transparency rankings put out by the Centre for Law and Democracy in Halifax, after all,

show a consistent decline in Canada's access to information performance. We now sit in 55th place on a list of 93 countries — tied with Malta but behind Mongolia and Montenegro.

Despite these grim statistics, the federal government seems to think the current Access to Information Act is working just fine, and they apparently see no reason to change it. In fact, the Stephen Harper government has shown no sign of implementing the eight transparency reforms they campaigned on during the 2006 federal election. Some of those excellent proposals included:

  • Giving the information commissioner the power to order the release of information.
  • Letting the information commissioner review the exclusion of cabinet confidences from records released to the public.
  • Requiring public officials to create records that document their actions and decisions.
  • Providing a general public interest override for all exemptions, so that the public interest is put before the secrecy of the government.
  • Making the non-disclosure of government information justifiable only in cases where disclosure would result in harm or injury.
  • Ensuring that the disclosure requirements laid out in the Access to Information Act are not undermined by the secrecy provisions in other federal acts.

Hard to believe, isn't it? That perhaps the most secretive government in recent memory once ran on this platform of openness and transparency?

This holiday season, Legault's consultation on the deficiencies in the ATIA provides all of us with a chance to do our best Jacob Marley and remind the Info-Scrooge Conservatives that they once campaigned on the position that government works best when open and accountable. Don't miss your chance to participate.