Accessing with Dinosaurs: Protecting Access to Government Information in the Cretaceous Period of Canadian Democracy
(2016) 25:3 Constitutional Forum 57
10 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2017
Date Written: February 20, 2016
This paper will explore the fate of a democratic dinosaur, the Canadian Access to Information Act. The Access Act is the primary tool that protects our right to access federal government information. This right is widely recognized as important to ensure government accountability and to promote political participation by citizens. Notwithstanding the importance of protecting this right, the Access Act has not been updated in any meaningful way since it was first enacted in 1982, despite widespread recognition of the need for modernization. While the legislative framework has remained static, new and greater threats to our right to access government information have developed. These threats include bureaucratic delays and refusals, political interference with access requests, failure to keep adequate records, and new legislative provisions designed to reduce access or even eliminate access investigations retroactively.
As a result, the Access Act stands as the Triceratops in the Cretaceous period, clad with some protections against predators who would restrict our rights to access government information, but ultimately ill-prepared to face the threats of increasingly effective predators and certainly unprepared to deal with the changing environment or to adjust to cataclysmic events. In light of this, I will consider three ways that the right to access government information should evolve to more effectively face its predators, to better adapt to the changing environment, and to ensure its protection when faced with cataclysmic events. These evolutionary imperatives include legislative renewal, executive action, and judicial protection of access to government information.
Keywords: freedom of information, access to information, democracy, law, accountability
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