Oldest active federal access-to-information requests stretch back to 2009

It’s been said the wheels of justice turn slowly, and a new look at Canada’s creaky access-to-information system appears to bear that out.

OTTAWA — It’s been said the wheels of justice turn slowly, and a new look at Canada’s creaky access-to-information system appears to bear that out.

According to data collected as part of a Liberal question in the House of Commons, Justice Canada is the federal department with the longest running, active access-to-information request — an unfulfilled inquiry that dates back more than six years.

Under the Access to Information Act passed by Parliament, departments are supposed to respond to requests for government records within 30 days, although in practice long delays have become routine.

Liberal MP David McGuinty placed a question on the House of Commons order paper seeking a list of the five oldest access requests in each government department, agency and commission.

The results are a blast from the past.

Justice Canada, with two outstanding requests from 2009, including one from Jan. 23 that year, was the lead laggard — but hardly alone in having a docket of very slow responses.

Environment Canada, Finance, Health, Public Works, Parks Canada and the Privy Council Office — the bureaucrats who support the Prime Minister’s Office and cabinet — all show active access requests dating back to 2010, more than a year before the last federal election.

A host of outstanding requests from 2011 remain scattered across an even wider array of government departments.

“My first reaction was: information delayed is information denied,” McGuinty said of the list of tardy government responses.

“The length — some of these going back as far as six years, almost seven years — it’s laughable. That’s not an access-to-information system in a 21st century, post-modern government.”

Combined with rampant redactions of material when it is finally released, McGuinty said the system is being used to suppress information rather than access it.

That’s simply not the case, countered Stephanie Rea, a spokeswoman in the office of Treasury Board President Tony Clement, who oversees the access system.

“The overall trend is that the access-to-information program is managing increased demands for access to information well,” Rea said in an email.

She pointed to a nine per cent increase in requests in 2013-14, with 61 per cent of all information requests completed within 30 days.

Rea said departments may have legitimate reasons for delaying the release of some records, “such as the need to consult appropriate parties or the need to search and review a large volume of materials.”

A Justice Canada spokesman said for large-scale requests that require consultations, the department will seek an extension “for a reasonable period of time.”

“We are making every effort to complete the requests in question, and have released interim packages to the requesters for three of the five (oldest) files,” spokesman Ian McLeod said in an email Thursday.

Information commissioner Suzanne Legault issued a report in March calling for a “long overdue” modernization of the 1983 Access to Information Act, including tighter timelines for processing access requests and enforceable powers to order agencies to release records.

The access law allows people who pay $5 to ask federal agencies for records ranging from audits and expense reports to internal emails, memos and briefing notes.

If an agency can’t respond within 30 days, it is supposed to provide a good reason why an extension is necessary.

The list provided to McGuinty illustrates just how those extensions are used.

Virtually all of the extended delays are attributed to third-party consultations or the request imposing “unreasonable interference with the operations of government.”

Health Canada, for instance, requested a 990-day extension on one 2010 in request under those two provisions — yet still had not responded to the access request by June 12, 2015.

A request submitted to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada in March 2014 is currently under a 1,460-day extension, according to the documents.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Gov’t of Alberta identifies estimated 300 new COVID-19 cases Sunday

Online COVID-19 dashboard unavailable as upgrades being completed

The Central Alberta Freestyle Ski Club is hoping to win $50,000 through the Mackenzie Investments Top Peak contest. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta ski club trying to win $50K in online contest

A central Alberta ski club has entered a contest where it can… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

Ben King scores for the Red Deer Rebels during the third period of a Western Hockey League game against the Calgary Hitmen at the Westerner Park Centrium Saturday. (Photo by Rob Wallator/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels complete comeback to pick up first win of season

Rebels 3 Hitmen 2 (OT) The Red Deer Rebels were able to… Continue reading

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan takes part in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa on December 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Conservatives to call top Sajjan, Trudeau aides to testify on Vance allegations

OTTAWA — The federal Conservatives plan to summon two senior Liberal aides… Continue reading

Elvira D'Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Several provinces were preparing to loosen COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday, as Canada’s… Continue reading

Mount Pearl Senior High in Mount Pearl, N.L., remains closed on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The provincial health authority says there were 185 cases at 22 schools, including 145 infections among staff and students of one high school in Mount Pearl that was an early epicentre of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
In Newfoundland and Labrador, three ingredients made for explosive COVID-19 outbreak

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — With her classes, three part-time jobs and a… Continue reading

A passenger places a tag on luggage at the departure terminal at Toronto Pearson Airport, in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, May 24, 2019. The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and familial connections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
COVID-19 pandemic prompts recent newcomers to leave Canada for their home countries

OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Rail cars wait for pickup in Winnipeg, Sunday, March 23, 2014. The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian oil and gas on trains destined for the United States — a country experts fear is ill-equipped for the potential consequences. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods
As debate rages over cross-border pipelines, U.S. analysts brace for more oil by rail

WASHINGTON — The fierce debate over cross-border pipelines is putting more Canadian… Continue reading

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

VICTORIA — Legal experts and a mother whose ex-partner was convicted of… Continue reading

Radio and television personality Dick Smyth is shown in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO
Dick Smyth, Canadian maestro of news radio commentary, dies at 86

TORONTO — Radio and television personality Dick Smyth, whose booming commentary filled… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

Most Read