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Federal Government to Tighten Access to Information Regime, Streamline Fees

Citizens seeking to obtain government records may need to provide documents proving their identity, according to new regulations made public on Dec. 24 by the Treasury Board.

“If the information contained in the request is insufficient to establish that the person making the request has a right of access under section 4 of the Act, the government institution must request additional information from the person in order to confirm their right of access,” says part of the regulations posted for a 30 days consultation period in the Canada Gazette and first noted by Blacklock’s Reporter.

Under the Access to Information Act (ATIA), Canadian citizens and permanent residents can file requests to obtain official records and currently are only required to check a box identifying their status in Canada.

A Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement produced by the Treasury Board says the objective of this change is to “provide greater transparency on the current operational practices.”

Under the Privacy Act, personal information can also be requested from the government and the Statement says the Privacy Regulations are already stricter with regard to verifying the identify of the requester.

However personal information can be obtained via the ATIA regime and there are currently no equivalent regulations, says the Treasury Board.

“Whether personal information is sought under the Privacy Act or under the ATIA, institutions must equally protect privacy by subjecting requesters to equivalent regulatory identification requirements,” says the Statement.

The Treasury Board doesn’t say in its Statement whether non-citizens or non-residents have filed or attempted to file access to information requests.

The Epoch Times contacted the Treasury Board for comment but didn’t hear back immediately.

The new regulations also streamline fees to limit them to the $5 charge to process the application, removing the cost for obtaining copies of printed documents or microfilms.

Filing an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request is currently fairly simple, with the online service requiring only a valid email and a credit card, and no proof of citizenship or residence.

‘Not Keeping the Pace’

The Treasury Board released a report on Dec. 13  on the processing of ATIP requests, which said the number of requests closed is increasing but it is “not keeping the pace” with the amount received.

It says that close to 80 percent of all requests in 2021-2022 had been sent to Immigration Canada (IRCC).

Excluding the requests for IRCC, the federal government received 45,334 requests, the highest total in a decade. Out of those, 40,889 were processed and closed.

The report says that 70.7 percent of requests were closed within the legislated timelines, including extensions, noting this as a “slight improvement” over the year prior. The main reason listed for not respecting the deadlines is “workload” in 60.7 percent of delay cases.

Also 28,585 requests were carried over into 2022-2023, up from 24,088 the previous period.

The difficulty in obtaining government records has been broached recently at the House of Commons’ access to information committee.

Journalist Dean Beeby told MPs that media are turning away from filing ATIP, “because, as study after study has shown, turnaround times are terrible and getting worse.”

“Bureaucrats also now realize that they face a much bigger blowback from releasing information than from withholding it, and the law provides them with a rich menu of excuses to keep things buried.”

Noé Chartier

Noé Chartier is an Epoch Times reporter based in Montreal.

Twitter: @NChartierET
Gettr: @nchartieret

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