In 2017, I filed an access to information request with Global Affairs Canada seeking records related to the creation of the WIPO Internet Treaties more than 20 years earlier. The timing of the request was not accidental. The exception for cabinet confidences in the Access to Information Act no longer applies after 20 years and my hope was to gain insights into the government’s thinking during the negotiation process that might have previously been publicly unavailable. The request took a long time to process and the department still withheld many records on a range of grounds. I rarely appeal to the Information Commissioner, but in this case I did. Last week, the Information Commissioner determined that my complaint was well-founded, but Global Affairs and its Minister, Melanie Joly, have thus far refused to abide by the ruling.
The Information Commissioner recommended the release of most of the information at issue, yet the government seemingly won’t comply. According to the decision:
On August 31, 2023, I issued my initial report to the Minister of Foreign Affairs setting out my recommendation. I also asked the Minister to give me notice as whether she plans to implement my recommendations and, if so, what specific actions she would be taking in that regard. The Minister of Foreign Affairs did not give me notice whether she would be implementing my recommendation. It is very regrettable that Global Affairs does not take its obligation under the Act seriously and, in addition to ignoring the complainant’s right of access, ignores the Act’s requirement to respond to my initial report. This is a clear sign of a lack of commitment to transparency and a failure of leadership.
I have the right to apply to the Federal Court for review. While I consider that option, the failure of the Access to Information system becomes even more readily apparent. These records are literally decades old and have now been the subject of years of review. The Information Commissioner rightly notes that the department exhibits “a clear sign of a lack of commitment to transparency and a failure of leadership.” For a government that once campaigned on greater transparency, failing to abide by its own (inadequate) law sends a discouraging signal on its respect for access to information and undermines efforts to encourage the governments of other countries to commit to transparency.