Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Languishes in World Rankings as Access to Info Anniversary Approaches

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Canada Languishes in World Rankings as Access to Info Anniversary Approaches

Article excerpt

Canada languishes in world info rankings

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OTTAWA - As the 30th anniversary of the federal Access to Information Act approaches, Canada finds itself tied for 51st in the world on a list of freedom-of-information rankings, languishing behind Angola, Colombia and Niger.

After some number-crunching to standardize findings, it turns out Canada is even lower on the list -- 11 spots to be exact -- than when it was first published last September as part of a groundbreaking project by Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy and Access Info Europe of Madrid.

"As a country that was once among the world's leaders in government openness, it is unfortunate that Canada has dropped so far down the list. Partly, this is the result of global progress, with which Canada has failed to keep pace," says an analysis accompanying the rankings.

The Access to Information Act, which took force on July 1, 1983, allows requesters who pay $5 to request a variety of records in federal files -- from correspondence and reports to briefing notes and hospitality receipts.

Departments and agencies are supposed to respond within 30 days, but often take extensions of up to half a year or more. Often little information is released even after a lengthy wait.

There have been repeated calls from pro-democracy groups and the federal information commissioner's office to modernize the act for the 21st century.

In October 2009, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson rejected a House of Commons committee's call to update the access law, saying it was a strong piece of legislation.

While "cutting edge" 30 years ago, the law has not been significantly updated since its inception, notes the world ranking report.

"Canada's lax timelines, imposition of access fees, lack of a proper public interest override, and blanket exemptions for certain political offices all contravene international standards for the right of access," says the report.

"Canada's antiquated approach to access to information is also the result of a lack of political will to improve the situation. …

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