Last year, Canada's information commissioner criticized the federal access to information law, and the way Ottawa applies it, in words that could not be more damning. "The Act is applied to encourage a culture of delay. The Act is applied to deny disclosure. It acts as a shield against transparency. The interests of the government trump the interests of the public," Suzanne Legault wrote in a report on the need to modernize the law.
Canadians who voted for the Liberals thought they were electing a party that recognized the serious problems with the act and the need for it to be speedily brought up to date. After all, doing so was a major plank in the party's election campaign.
But last week, Treasury Board President Scott Brison announced that a full review of the law will not begin until 2018, which means it will be at least another three years or more before Canadians finally get the access-to-information law that they deserve.
The government's delay is frustrating. It's not as if anyone who wants to revise the law has to start from scratch. The abuses by government officials have been well documented by Ms. Legault.
In one particularly egregious case in 2010, Ms. Legault found that ministerial staff at Public Works and Government Services Canada interfered with access-to-information requests, that the employees responsible for administering the act were instructed to preserve good relations with the minister's office, that the department failed to comply with the obligation to reply to requests in a timely fashion, and that information was improperly kept out of reach in the minister's office.
Ms. Legault concluded there was "systematic interference" by the minister, and she lamented that she did not have the authority, in this case, to refer her findings to law enforcement officials.
The government says it will table amendments this year that, had they existed then, would have allowed Ms. Legault to take the Public Works case to law enforcement. But the Liberals' broader promise of making government information open by default – a move that could solve all problems at once – will lie dormant for years.
The Liberals should keep their full promise immediately. They know the problems, and Ms. Legault and others the solutions. There is no valid reason to stall.