Media Misses New Report from Information Commissioner: Nearly Half of Information Requests Processed Illegally
Appallingly, all but CTV appears to have missed this week’s tabling of the annual report of the Information Commissioner, which makes for disturbing if characteristically dry reading. I’ll admit, I would have missed it myself but for the appearance of a fluff piece on the government newswire, claiming that the report highlighted “efforts to reverse declining trends in timeliness and disclosure across the access to information regime.” It sounded too light to be true, so I read the report myself.
It’s worth noting that when this news report speaks of “timely access” and “full disclosure,” what it actually means is illegal delays and withholding of information by the Government of Canada. Naturally there are no penalties for such interference in Access to Information requests, with the rare exception of cases where individuals’ behaviour is particularly outlandish and egregious, as was the case with a ministerial aide named Sebastien Togneri at Public Works last year. Here are some of the highlights of the report:
- The government illegally delays almost half of requests submitted under the Access to Information Act.
- The government denies any information to more than 80% of requesters.
- The Information Commissioner receives around 2000 complaints per year, of which 43% are legitimate complaints about illegal government interference with ATI requests, compared to just 23% of which are found to be baseless complaints. (The remainder are dropped or settled before reaching a formal resolution.)
- Access to Information suffered “a major setback” when the Supreme Court of Canada agreed with the Harper regime that Canadians did not have a right to know anything about any of the records in the office of any Cabinet minister, including the Prime Minister.
I have had numerous conversations about the fact that half of government ATI requests are processed illegally with civil servants. Almost uniformly the response is that illegal delays are acceptable because civil servants are too busy doing other things to work on such a tedious administrative exercise. Presumably this is true on an individual level. At the same time, though, it shows two things: (a) a callous disregard for the rule of law in one of the few groups that is supposed to be guided explicitly by law, the bureaucracy; and (b) this disregard is actively promoted by the government in power, not just this one but previous ones as well, which deliberately under-fund and under-resource ATI services to the point that they are routinely processed illegally.
In which case, Sebastien Togneri isn’t the one who should be in court on interference charges. The entire Cabinet should be.Tweet