by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
canada, secrecy, transparency

Canadian Politicians Work Towards Transparency Reform By Keeping Relevant Documents Secret

from the the-first-rule-of-open-records-reform... dept

Following in the proud tradition of governments everywhere who believe a push for transparency is best performed under the cover of darkness, the Canadian legislators behind an attempt to update the Access to Information Act have decided to keep their transparency discussions secret.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has chosen to withhold key memos to minister Scott Brison on reforming the antiquated Access to Information Act.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has promised to amend the access law so that federal information is open by default.

But Canadians aren’t allowed to see the advice from officials on how to reach that goal.

The Canadian Press used the access law to request recent briefing notes and memos to Brison on possible reforms. However, entire pages were withheld for fear of revealing government advice, consultations or deliberations.
The Canadian Press notes the government didn't have to redact these pages. While there is an exemption for deliberative documents, it's purely discretionary. The good news is that the unredacted portions of the documents seem to indicate a desire to strengthen the public's access, rather than weaken it. It also appears the rewrite will expand the law's coverage to more agencies.

But, for now, all other details are still only known to the public's representatives, leaving the people they represent in the dark. It's tough to mobilize support (or express objections) if voters don't know who's asking for what.

Then there's the fact that this reform effort has been in the works for four years now with very little to show for it. The 1983 law isn't equipped to handle a mostly-digital world and, as in every country with a national open records law, the government has become quite adept at exploiting loopholes to avoid having to turn over documents.
Long-standing problems with the access to information law have prompted calls for a substantive change, something the Conservative government, like previous governments, has been reluctant to do.

For example, instances where requesters got absolutely nothing increased by 49.1 per cent over the last five years. And during the same time period, the number of requests that were extended beyond their original 30-day deadline increased by 18.6 per cent — a slower rate of increase than the growth of requests, but still acknowledged as a problem.
Bureaucracies are never efficient, but it gets even worse when reform efforts target something everyone says they're committed to (transparency) but is actually the last thing they want. Four years and a regime change later, the efforts are still inching forward. Meanwhile, the public is being told indirectly that the best thing it can do is sit on the sidelines and wait for their representatives to decide what's best for them, rather than inviting them to participate in a discussion of great interest to them.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 2:13pm

    The Magic of the Rule Making Sausage is in the Magic.

    How does one practice sleight of hand if nothing is hidden? In order to pull something out of your ear, it must be palmed...oh, sorry, magicians don't tell their secrets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Mar 2016 @ 2:32pm

    The politicians view of this

    How can we represent the citizens if they are part of the conversations, as that stops us doing what we want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), 22 Mar 2016 @ 7:09pm

    Given the push back from more secretive areas of government they probably want the transparency to be a surprise so they have less time to mobilize against it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    please sir can I have some more, 22 Mar 2016 @ 10:40pm

    we are well and truly fucked

    Canada because of chritien and then harper has become so corrupt with my out do the united states

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Mar 2016 @ 5:43am

    there goes that hope of a change in government meant a change in government policy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 6:44am


    I hope they found this irony hilarious, because if it didn't even occur to them, that seems even worse than them trolling the Canadian public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 Mar 2016 @ 8:28am

    What you say, versus what you do

    A person can say anything, and possibly even mean it, but if you want to know their true intent and motivations you need to watch what they do. Words are cheap and cost nothing to say, actions take more effort and are therefor much less likely to be done without reason.

    Claiming a desire for 'increased transparency', and then hiding the deliberations behind a veil of secrecy makes it clear that the 'transparency' resulting from the changes will be limited at best. 'Sure the government will be more transparent towards the public, but only in the instances where it is believed that the public deserves to know something. It's not like the government has any obligation to answer to the public or anything after all.'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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