Strengthening the Access to Information Act

Introduction

Consistent with its commitment to introduce reforms to improve the accountability of the federal public sector and the federal access regime at the earliest opportunity, the Government is introducing a proposed Federal Accountability Act on April 11, 2006, which includes a number of reforms to the Access to Information Act ( ATIA ). One will extend the coverage of the ATIA to parent Crown Corporations, Agents of Parliament, and three foundations created by federal statute. Additional exemptions have been introduced to ensure adequate and clear protection of sensitive information of the new entities to be covered. As well, certain administrative reforms have been proposed.

As stated on several occasions, the Government is committed to consulting with citizens on ongoing policy development processes and to ensuring that Members of Parliament have the benefit of input from all Canadians. A number of the proposed access reform elements, including the coverage of other entities, Cabinet confidences, duty to document, and the exemptions scheme, are extremely complex and require further analysis, discussion and debate. The ATIA has a broad constituency across many sectors of society with widely divergent views on its administration. For this reason, it is appropriate to hear a range of views on reform proposals and to develop approaches for reform in a public forum, before the Government prepares its bill.

To set the stage for this public discussion, the Government is tabling a set of legislative proposals based on the Information Commissioner's recommendations for the reform of the ATIA, which were regarded favourably by the Standing House Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the last Parliament. The Government is also tabling this discussion paper, which offers comments on some of the Information Commissioner's proposals and some alternate approaches to reform for consideration. It is hoped that the legislative proposals and discussion paper will be studied by the Standing House Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. In this regard, the Government has noted that the Information Commissioner and Deputy Information Commissioner advised the Committee, when these proposals were first tabled in 2005, that no consultations had been undertaken on their recommended reforms. Also, while the substance of the proposals was endorsed by the Committee and the House in the last Parliament, it must be noted that the views of affected stakeholders had not been provided to the Committee. Moreover, any government bill resulting from the above process should comply with federal drafting standards and conventions and must be the product of a bilingual and bijural drafting process. Finally, the cost implications of the Information Commissioner's proposals have not yet been fully assessed and, in this regard, a preliminary estimate of the potential magnitude of costs is attached as Annex 1 to this paper.

In summary, the Government was in a position to introduce some reforms as part of the proposed Federal Accountability Act, as sufficient consultations have been undertaken with the affected entities to allow the development of reforms. The remaining proposals, however, require further consultation, analysis and development before additional reforms can be drafted and introduced. The Government, through the Committee, needs to hear a broad range of views on the possible impacts on core operations of government and on persons who deal with government, before proceeding.

Given the complexity of the ATIA and of the Information Commissioner's proposals, the paper identifies key issues for further analysis and public discussion, and suggests alternate approaches, where appropriate.

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