How Bill C-58 changed the Access to Information Act

Order-making powers

Bill C-58 gave the Information Commissioner the power to make binding orders related to access to information requests. Orders can focus on:

  • the release of government records
  • time extensions
  • the language of access
  • the format of disclosed information

To read this provision, see section 36.1 of the Access to Information Act.

Fees

Bill C-58 eliminated the Government’s authority to impose any fees other than the application fee. This means that the government can no longer charge fees for processing a request or reproducing documents. The application fee is set through regulation and is currently fixed at $5. This low fee supports the right of access, regardless of income level.

To read this provision, see section 11 of the Access to Information Act.

Mandatory review

Bill C-58 introduced a new requirement for a periodic review of the Act every five years. The President of the Treasury Board is responsible for undertaking each review and tabling a report in Parliament. Parliament is also required to conduct its own parallel review of the Act every five years. The first review was launched on June 18, 2020.

To read this provision, see section 93 of the Access to Information Act.

Bad faith requests

Bill C-58 gave institutions the ability to request permission from the Information Commissioner to decline to act on an information request that is vexatious, made in bad faith, or abuses the right of access. Requesting permission to decline to act allows institutions to focus their resources on requests that are consistent with the purposes of the Act and further the goals of openness and transparency.

The Information Commissioner has set a high bar for permitting an institution to decline to act. Institutions must first demonstrate that they have made every reasonable effort to work with the requester to clarify the scope and nature of the request. They must also provide clear evidence that the request is contrary to the purpose of the Act. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, institutions applied to the Information Commissioner to decline to act on a request six times. The Commissioner has approved only one of these applications.

To read this provision, see section 6.1 of the Access to Information Act.

Proactive publication

Proactive publication is a new section in the Access to Information Act. It requires federal institutions to proactively publish various types of information that would be of interest to the public.

For example, Canadians can now find the titles of briefing notes to ministers and deputy ministers, Question Period notes for ministers, briefing packages prepared for incoming deputies and ministers, and materials prepared for appearances at Parliamentary Committees online at the Open Government Portal. The Portal is easy to use, allowing users to search for the type of record they wish to access, the institution it comes from, or subject matters of interest.

The new proactive publication requirements apply to:

  • the Prime Minister’s Office
  • ministers’ offices
  • federal departments, agencies, administrative tribunals and boards
  • Crown corporations
  • other federal institutions, such as Port Authorities
  • Senators
  • members of Parliament
  • the administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts

This change has significantly expanded the openness and transparency of government information and provided Canadians with unprecedented insight into the government’s priorities, decision-making and operations. Since these requirements came into force in June 2019, the Open Government Portal has given the public access to over 35,000 briefing note titles and more than 1,600 Question Period notes.

To read these provisions, see Part 2 (sections 71.01 – 91) of the Access to Information Act.

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