The Interim Access to Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault released a new report yesterday on government compliance with the Access to Information Act. The report concludes that the right to obtain federal documents is at risk of being "totally obliterated." For readers of this blog, three departments figure most prominently in the ATI system: Industry Canada, Canadian Heritage, and Foreign Affairs.
Industry Canada fared pretty well, scoring a respectable "B", with the Commissioner noting that it faced a 93 percent increase in requests. Far more problematic were Foreign Affairs and Canadian Heritage. Foreign Affairs, which has primary responsibility for ACTA, was so bad it did not even receive an "F". The department takes longer than any other in the government and while it hired new staff to handle a massive backlog, those staff were let go after one year, meaning that things will get worse before they get better.
Canadian Heritage, which regularly receives requests on copyright and cultural policy, received an "F" with very troubling analysis. For example, the report states:
Despite the fact that access to information is a statutory requirement, access to information officials at Canadian Heritage reported during the interview for this report card that the function is given considerably less priority than the institution’s mandate-related programs.
The review process involves multiple layers and delays, with Minister James Moore's office receiving a copy of each disclosure package. The departmental response suggests that things may change, but the department – which once was fairly quick and responsivee – is clearly now understaffed and the concerns about a secretive approach apparently well justified.