Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

The findings of the Information Commissioner of Canada, Caroline Maynard, are damning. Archaic and too slow, the system for processing access to information requests suffers from chronic problems and is in urgent need of reform, she warns.

Caroline Maynard d&eacute ;outlines the “culture of secrecy” in Ottawa

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The Information Commissioner of Canada, Caroline Maynard, wants to improve the processing of access to information requests.

  • Rosanna Tiranti (View profile)Rosanna Tiranti

Speech synthesis, based on artificial intelligence, makes it possible to generate spoken text from written text.

The number of requests made to federal institutions under the Access to Information Act increases each year and the deadlines for them answer too.

According to figures compiled by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada (New window), only 29% of requests made to all federal institutions receive a response within the prescribed deadlines.

In the dock: the abundance of information, the lack of resources to sort it and this culture of secrecy which has slowly taken root in the federal apparatus.

You are supposed to give access, says the Information Commissioner of Canada, Caroline Maynard, in an interview with the show Les Coulisses du politique.

But people, when they receive requests […], often, what x27;what they are going to do is redact, black out the documents. They are afraid to give information.

A quote from Caroline Maynard, Information Commissioner of Canada

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Heavily redacted documents.

She is careful not to place the blame solely on the current administration. No matter the government, it always seems to be the same vicious cycle, she says. We hear a lot of promises […] but no concrete actions to change the situation.

Ms. Maynard believes that access to information should be the last resort and believes that federal agencies and departments should, by default, provide information voluntarily.

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We have even seen […] examples where people were told: "Make a request for access to information" for speeches that were given publicly.

A quote from Caroline Maynard, Information Commissioner of Canada

This leads to situations worthy of Kafka.

The daily Ottawa Citizenrequested a copy of a speech given on March 7 by the Chief of Staff of the Canadian Armed Forces on the importance of transparency. The newspaper was told it would have to submit a request under the Access to Information Act.

Due to accumulated delays, it could take nearly two years to obtain a copy of the speech in question.

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Information Commissioner of Canada, Caroline Maynard, is Daniel Thibeault's guest on the show “Les glaces du verre”.

Beyond the requests, which are more numerous each year, the volume of information that must be filtered also gives a hard time to a system poorly equipped to deal with these new realities.

We no longer talk like in 1983, when the law was created, where people had information on paper files, underlines Commissioner Maynard. Now everything is electronic. We have a lot, a lot of information, so information management is a problem.

Given the abundance of documents and formats, Caroline Maynard believes that digitalization is essential and that artificial intelligence is also called upon to play a role. Federal officials must also be aware of their obligations.

When you search for documents at the government level, it's not like Google. […] You have to send emails. It's very, very difficult work.

A quote from Caroline Maynard, Information Commissioner of Canada

To the Council of Trésor, we recognize that there is still a lot of work to do in terms of performance, the use of digital tools, information and data management.

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Treasury Board President Anita Anand (Archive photo) < /p>

The team of Treasury Board President Anita Anand indicates by email that training efforts for public servants are underway to move towards greater openness and transparency.

Ms Anand promises a review of the Access to Information Act in 2025.

< p class="Text-sc-2357a233-1 fnWfaZ">Access to Information (AI) is vital to our democracy and we understand the importance of having a system that can provide all Canadians with transparent and accurate information in a timely manner. p>A quote from Anita Anand, President of the Treasury Board

According to Caroline Maynard, without an in-depth overhaul of the system, it is the confidence of citizens that will be at stake. They will turn to sources […] which are not reliable and that leads to disinformation, underlines -she. People will create stories.

Without access to reliable information, the public cannot understand the decisions made or the spending made by governments , adds the commissioner. In addition, access to information is also a way to hold the government accountable.

It is the oxygen of our democracy. This is how we know if we can trust our government. […] At the end of it all, [citizens] lose confidence.

A quote from Caroline Maynard, Information Commissioner of Canada

As she enters the sixth year of her mandate, Caroline Maynard says she will continue to sound the alarm on the state of access to information in the country.

This episode of Behind the scenes will be broadcast Sunday at 11 h on ICI RDI and on ICI Télé.

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