“Access Delayed, Access Denied”

Freedom of Information (FOI) was the subject of the cover story in The Globe and Mail this morning. Under the cover heading “Access Delayed, Access Denied”, a reference to the famous legal maxim “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied”, Globe journalists and FOI veterans Tom Cardoso and Robyn Doolittle report on the delays currently plaguing Canada’s freedom of information systems, with a special spotlight on the strained federal system.

I have complained before about how journalists tend to conflate the federal and provincial freedom of information systems to help make their point, but this article does a good job of distinguishing Canada’s “broken” federal FOI program from the better-performing provincial systems, such as Ontario’s.

That said, former Acting Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, Brian Beamish, offers up criticism of the provincial systems as well:

Brian Beamish, a former information and privacy commissioner for Ontario, says that while access-to-information regimes in each province, territory and at the federal level are all slightly different, the problems are universal: delays, costs, the overuse of redactions and a lack of proactive disclosure.

The throughline is that political leaders do not view access as a priority. Mr. Beamish said governments have dedicated a lot of energy and resources in tackling issues around privacy. They do this because they understand there is a political price to pay if citizens think that political leaders are being negligent with their personal information.

“I don’t think that same focus and approach is taken on the access-to-information side,” he said. “I think governments say they believe in transparency and accountability – and I think Canadians want to hear that – but I don’t think [politicians] completely understand what that means until they get involved in the process … complete transparency can be embarrassing and hurt you politically.”

Ottawa spent $90-million in 2021 on strained access-to-information program

Retired Colonel and FOI author Michael Drapeau notes the system was already broken, even before COVID:

“The system was broken before, and now, after COVID, it’s almost as if there are no rules,” [Drapeau] said.


Seeing this article on the cover of today’s Globe and Mail suggests to me that freedom of information is back in the sights of the national media and is bound to become a larger issue in the months and years ahead. Much was forgiven during the closures and mandates under COVID, but as society returns to normal, expectations are rising. Some may see this as an opportunity to push for significant changes to systems that haven’t been performing well since even before COVID put additional strain on the system.

How can institutions improve?

If you are at a provincial or municipal institution in Ontario, the best way to increase the productivity, compliance and legibility of your institution’s FOI program is to use the FOI Assist software. The FOI Assist software guides you through the process under FIPPA or MFIPPA and significantly shortens the time your institution takes to process an FOI request. The FOI Assist software runs “in the cloud” and is accessed via your web browser, just like LinkedIn or Facebook. And it has a modern, easy-to-use interface; a 30-minute videoconference is all it takes to get your institution up and running.

For more information, read the release announcement, or better yet, book a demonstration to see for yourself how much of the FOI process the software can take care of for you.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Published by Justin Petrillo

I have created the FOI Assist™ software to help Ontario’s provincial and municipal government institutions of all sizes track and respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. For most of my career I have been a lawyer, advising clients on commercial, intellectual property and FOI/privacy issues. From 2013 to 2015, I managed the FOI program for the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee while serving as Legal Counsel to the Games. Prior to becoming a lawyer, I obtained a computer science degree and worked as a software developer at several well-known technology companies.

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