Watchdog warns of information access 'crisis'

Lack of leadership, staff shortages blamed for long delays in responding to government information requests
 
Feb 26, 2009 10:55 AM
Bruce Campion-Smith
Richard J. Brennan
Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA Canada's Access to Information is plagued by long delays and bureaucratic foot-dragging - a problem blamed on a lack of leadership "at the highest levels of government," the federal information watchdog warned today.

Information Commissioner Robert Marleau this morning issued a report highlighting "serious flaws" with Ottawa's handling of access to information requests, condemning the slow pace that leaves Canadians waiting months for a response.

Marleau said it will take leadership to change a "tendency to withhold information to a true climate of openness."

"The poor performance shown by institutions is symptomatic of a major information management crisis throughout government," Marleau said in a statement accompanying his report.

"Access to information has become hostage to this crisis and is about to become its victim," he said.

Marleau surveyed 10 federal institutions in how they responded to access to information requests during the 2007-2008 fiscal year and found six performed "below average."

"There are major delays, particularly with extensions, with some institutions routinely taking months to respond to information requests. Canadians expect and deserve far greater efficiency and accountability from their government," Marleau said in the statement.

The defence department, foreign affairs, public works and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ranked among the worst performers of the departments surveyed by Marleau.

Foreign Affairs had the lowest rate of complement of requests within the 30-day statutory guideline and took, on average, 132 days to meet requests. Public Works took an average of 126 days.

Marleau blamed the problems on an "acute" shortage of qualified personnel to handle access to information operations and the fact there is no mandatory staff training.

He also noted there are no "adequate" incentives to speed the pace of handling requests and no consequences for not complying with Access to Information legislation.

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Commentary by the Ottawa Mens Centre

Canadians should be more concerned that "foot dragging" is part of the art of destroying the rule of law and public accountability. The establishment have effectively, absolute power and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The most serious example in Canada is the "delay" in obtaining transcripts of hearings of dubious decisions that were not legal decisions but political decisions. Its a problem that politicians ignore because its a politically incorrect problem that only affects "a minority" that has next to no political value.