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Bill on transparency would improve Canada's failing access to information system

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) supports the amendments proposed in Bill C-613, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Access to Information Act (transparency). The bill would improve the current failing access to information system and increase government transparency.

If passed into law, Bill C-613 would:

1) amend the language of the Access to Information Act to state that the government must be “open by default,” so that transparency becomes the norm and secrecy becomes the exception;

2) give the Information Commissioner the power to order the government to disclose documents, and require the government to appeal to the courts if it wanted to overturn the Information Commissioner's decision. As it currently stands, the Information Commissioner can only attempt to convince the government to disclose documents. If that fails, the commissioner must apply to the Federal Court for an order to disclose;

3) eliminate the potentially onerous fees related to access-to-information requests (except for the initial $5 application fee, and even that would have to be refunded if the government did not respond to a request within 30 days);

4) amend the Parliament of Canada Act to require that meetings of the secretive Board of Internal Economy, which oversees House of Commons finances (including setting rules on MP spending and disclosure of expenses), be presumptively open to the public; and

5) allow fewer exceptions from the Access to Information Act, require more periodic reviews of the Act, and provide incentives for timely disclosure.

CJFE urges Parliament to further expand Bill C-613 to also include Parliament, ministers' offices and administration of the courts. However, CJFE supports the Act as far as it goes and urges Members of Parliament to support and pass C-613 into law.

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