Canada: Budget cuts threaten recent gains in access to information

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE is pleased with the recent announcement from the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (OICC) that overall improvements have been made in the delivery of Access to Information (ATI) requests. However, concerns remain about delivery times for information requests from several institutions, and about the sustainability of improvements in the potential aftermath of proposed cuts in the federal budget bill.

In 2008-2009, the OICC investigated the performance of over 30 government agencies and their effectiveness at turning around ATI requests. From this investigation, recommendations were made to improve delivery times to those requesting information. In a follow-up report for 2010-2011, the OICC discovered that of 18 agencies performing average or below average in the previous investigation, 13 had improved. Five agencies either did not improve or worsened, by failing to adopt the recommendations, which included measures toward eliminating backlogged requests. Reasons cited in the report for the failure to adopt the recommendations include limited operating budgets and understaffing.

CJFE asks that you support this progress and ensure that budget cuts do not affect the public’s ability to access government information in a timely manner. The ability to access and share information is an inextricable aspect of freedom of expression and thus of any healthy democracy.

We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.

Yours Sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President