Last year, the Government discontinued the operation of the CAIRS database, which was the leading source of information on access to information requests across all federal government departments. By searching CAIRS, Canadians could easily identify prior requests, thereby reducing taxpayer costs by reducing duplicative requests. For many years, Online Democracy provided monthly updates on new additions to the database. The decision to discontinue the database generated criticism and a House of Commons committee report recommending its reinstatement.
Until that happens, I have been working with some students on an interim solution. Today I launched CAIRS.Info, a new site that provides access to searchable PDF copies of the same information that was contained in the CAIRS database. Requests are sent to most government departments each quarter for a list of the most recent access to information requests. The resulting documents are uploaded and can be searched by government department, date of the request, or keywords within the requests. All request documents can be viewed online or downloaded as a PDF file. The files include the wording of the original access to information request, date, department, file number and general information about whether the requester was with the media, business, academic or other. Once users have identified an access request that is of interest, they can ask the relevant government department for a copy of all disclosed records. Most departments will allow for an "informal" request under which the records are disclosed at no cost (though the requester forfeits rights of appeal). Alternatively, a formal request for all records can be submitted to the department (a $5 fee is needed).
I candidly think that this information should be made available directly from the government, either through reinstating CAIRS or through direct disclosures from each department (only the Department of National Defence posts completed requests on their site). Until then, however, I plan to keep requesting and posting the information on CAIRS.Info.