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Include offices of PM, ministers under Access to Information law: info commissioner

Include offices of PM, ministers under Access to Information law: info commissioner
Politics
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has nominated Caroline Maynard as Canada s new information commissioner. (Government of Canada)

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Information commissioner Caroline Maynard says the records these offices hold, with the exception of those of a personal or political nature, should be accessible to the public

Maynard makes the recommendation in a newly released submission to the Liberal government, which is conducting a full review of the access law, intended to be a key accountability tool for Canadians.

Bringing ministerial offices under the access law would honour a promise Justin Trudeau made in the 2015 election campaign but backed away from after assuming power.

Instead, the Liberals introduced a requirement that ministers publish information including mandate letters, certain briefing materials, and travel and hospitality expenses.

However, Maynard says, ministers offices have other materials relating to their duties that fall outside this obligation.

"It is important to provide the public with access to records that are of interest to them, not just those that are proactively made available to them," says the submission, posted on her website.

Maynard recommends the access law apply to any agency that provides government services or carries out activities of a governmental nature, including those to whom the government has outsourced the delivery of programs.

The law allows users who pay $5 to ask for files ranging from internal memos and email correspondence to briefing notes and research reports.

However, the legislation introduced in 1983 has been widely criticized as antiquated and poorly administered. That has prompted many formal complaints to the commissioner about prolonged delays and blacked-out pages in documents.

The Trudeau government announced the review of the access law in June, but has yet to provide details on how the public might participate, citing challenges posed by COVID-19.

Some openness advocates have expressed skepticism about the review, given the many calls for wide-ranging reform over the years.

The access regime had already entered a critical phase before the COVID-19 pandemic and "could soon be beyond repair" if certain serious problems are not resolved, Maynard says.
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