Access to information in the federal government
Openness, transparency and accountability are guiding principles of the Government of Canada. The government makes information available to Canadians in many different ways, including:
- publishing information on government websites
- releasing data and information on the Open Government Portal
- interacting with Canadians through web applications and service accounts such as MyCRA and My Account with CRA
- responding to media requests for information
About the Access to Information Act
The Access to Information Act complements these other means of providing information to Canadians.
It gives Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and individuals and corporations in Canada the right to access records held by about 260 federal institutions. The Act is structured around three important principles:
- government information should be available to the public
- exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific
- decisions on the disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government – the Information Commissioner of Canada plays this important role
The Act also puts into practice the principle of “open by default” by making information available proactively, without the need to make a request. This includes:
- mandate letters from the Prime Minister to ministers
- briefing packages for new ministers and deputy heads
- briefing note titles
- Question Period notes
- briefing materials prepared for ministers’ appearances at Parliamentary Committees
- information on government contracts over $10,000
- travel and hospitality expenses by senior government officials and ministers
The proactive publication requirements apply to the Prime Minister’s Office, ministers’ offices, departments, agencies, administrative tribunals and boards, Crown corporations, and other institutions, such as port authorities and funding foundations. Proactive publication requirements that apply to senators, members of Parliament, and the administrative bodies that support Parliament and the courts will come into force on June 21, 2020. Find out more about how proactive publication works.
Access to Information Roles and Responsibilities
- Canadians have a right to access government information. This right was recognized as quasi-constitutional in 2011 by the Supreme Court of Canada.
- Access to government information is vital to a vibrant democracy. It enables Canadians to participate in civic activities in an informed way. It also ensures transparency and accountability across government institutions.
President of the Treasury Board
- The Access to Information Act names the President of the Treasury Board as the minister responsible for the overall administration of the Act across the federal government.
- Since June 2019, the President of the Treasury Board is required to undertake periodic reviews of the Act.
Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
- The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat supports the President of the Treasury Board in administering the Access to Information Act across the 265 federal institutions that are subject to the Act. The Secretariat’s work includes:
- Developing policies, regulations, directives and guidance related to access to information, and
- Providing advice and support to access to information practitioners – that is, the people who process requests throughout the government.
- The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat is not responsible for ensuring that government institutions fulfill their obligations under the Act. That responsibility falls to the head of each government institution.
- Government institutions create and hold records throughout the course of their work. These records may be requested through the Access to Information Act.
- There are approximately 265 institutions subject to the Act. This number includes the departments, agencies and other organizations listed in Schedule I of the Act, plus Crown corporations and their wholly-owned subsidiaries, as defined in the Financial Administration Act.
- Heads of government institutions are responsible for ensuring that the Access to Information Act is respected and appropriately administered within their institutions.
- Heads of government institutions normally delegate the day-to-day operations related to the administration of access to information to their ATIP Offices.
Access to Information and Privacy Offices
- ATIP Offices are responsible for the daily operations of processing access to information requests. Their main functions include:
- Communicating with requesters to answer questions or clarify the scope of a request,
- Undertaking consultations with other government institutions or third parties on requested information that pertains to them,
- Ensuring that the protections applied to records are limited and specific,
- Providing responses to requesters in a timely manner, and
- Protecting the anonymity of requesters.
Information Commissioner of Canada
- The Information Commissioner of Canada is an Agent of Parliament who is appointed by and reports directly to Parliament.
- The Commissioner provides arms-length oversight of the government’s access to information practices. This work includes:
- Investigating complaints about how federal institutions process and respond to requests,
- Offering information and advice to Parliament on matters related to access to information,
- Negotiating with complainants and institutions to resolve disputes, and
- Making formal recommendations or binding orders to institutions regarding their access to information practices.
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