On the face of it, access to information and press freedom may not seem like the most lawyerly issues.
But when it comes to lawyers playing an important public role as legislative experts and thought leaders, their attention to these matters is indeed crucial.
In this issue of Law Times, columnist Lisa Taylor — a lawyer and journalist — explains the importance of protecting press freedom in Canada, especially in light of verbal attacks on the press south of the border. There is also a piece on delays around the federal government’s promise to reform the federal Access to Information Act. The recent annual report by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, which describes itself as the “the first level of independent review of government decisions relating to requests for access to public sector information,” indicated it received more than 2,000 complaints in 2016-2017.
This led to investigations into delays or refusals for public sector information.
“Many of these investigations illustrate how the outdated Access to Information Act is used as a shield against transparency. The issues raised highlight the need to amend the Act to resolve long-standing deficiencies,” said the report.
The report also noted that investigations included “the deletion of emails subject to an access request referring to the provincial and federal Liberal party; problems obtaining records in ministers’ offices; a failure to document decisions related to the tasering death of Robert Dziekanski; difficulties obtaining information regarding the governments’ interactions with SNC-Lavalin; and lengthy delays to access information related to an Indian Residential School.”
The act — and its lack of reform — has implications for privacy law, criminal law, administrative law, corporate/commercial law and beyond. Reforming the legislation and promoting press freedom is important to ensure the free flow of information and ideas.