Yippee! It’s Right to Know Week. It’s not exactly up there with ‘pumpkin spice month’ or homecoming week but for a tiny segment of the population – Right to Know is important. What the heck is it, you ask?
Well it was created in 2002 at an international gathering of access to information practitioners and has ten core principles:
- Access to information is a right of everyone.
- Access is the rule—secrecy is the exception!
- The right applies to all public bodies.
- Making requests should be simple, speedy, and free.
- Officials have a duty to assist requesters.
- Refusals must be justified.
- The public interest takes precedence over secrecy.
- Everyone has the right to appeal an adverse decision.
- Public bodies should pro-actively publish core information.
- The right should be guaranteed by an independent body.
In practical terms it is the right of citizens to know what information governments have in their possession – not just about you but about anything. First because we paid for it with our tax dollars and second because openness and transparency provides a check on corruption.
I celebrated Right to Know Week with a number of different activities. First I called a bunch ATIP analysts to sweetly ask about overdue requests.
I’m told I have no poker face so I probably looked like this.
Then I had the best call with an investigator in the Information Commissioner’s Office. She thinks one of my complaints against a Section 18 redaction (injurious to the economic interests of Canada) has a good chance for success. She also gave me a good quote for the week about Section 21. “the most over abused exemption I’ve ever seen”. Sing it! Section 21 is this aggravating exemption that covers operations of government, advice and recommendations – so most everything. I’d say over three quarters of the responses I receive have something blacked out based on Section 21.
Next I watched a webcast of a Right to Know conference sponsored by the Information Commissioner. This panel was an analysis of C-58, the current (and terrible) bill to amend the 1983 Access to Information Act. Dennis Molinaro wanted to bring “joy” back to access reform, Professor Teressa Scassa coined a great word “transparaphobia” to describe government’s fear of openness.
— Alex Neve (@AlexNeveAmnesty) September 26, 2017
C-58 was debated at second reading in the House of Commons this week and then sent to committee where, hopefully, it will get amended.
And finally yesterday I visited Library and Archives Canada to consult with some of their ATIP specialists about using the Access Act to retrieve archival records. The best tip from them was even if the file says “restricted” in the online catalogue, request it anyway because it is possible it has never been reviewed by an ATIP analyst and there’s chance of getting records.