Freedom of information laws exist in every province in Canada and federally. We have them so that the public can peek behind the controlled messaging of government and see what’s going on. These laws are routinely used to expose government excess, wrongdoing and corruption; stories ranging from Allison Redford’s “sky palace” to the Afghan torture scandal of the early Harper years have been aired in public only because someone was able to request the damning records from the government itself.
So yes, like any other leader, Justin Trudeau should be afraid of freedom of information.
But governments should ignore these laws at their peril. In B.C., a government staffer is being investigated by the RCMP after he “triple deleted” (permanently deleted) emails that should have been provided in response to an FOI request. Nobody in their right mind believes this is an isolated incident. Meanwhile, the former Conservative government was consistently blasted for its undermining of freedom of information laws – ironic, since FOI reform and government accountability was something that Harper once campaigned on following the Liberal sponsorship scandal. Instead of following through, he undermined them, tightened control, and kneecapped the public’s ability to keep him accountable.
After two decades of neglect The Freedom of Information Act is a joke. Anyone requesting information from the federal government must cut a $5 cheque (who still uses cheques?) and mail it to Ottawa with a letter (a pre-email form of written communication) asking for the records. It’s like writing to Monsieur Eaton to ask for a Canadiens sweater. If he or she is lucky, a few months later a stack of papers or a CD containing photocopies of printouts of documents will arrive – not the original electronic files in any searchable form, but photocopied pages that could number in the hundreds or thousands. After months of waiting for the Canadiens sweater, wouldn’t you know it, the bastard sent you a Leafs jersey.
This must be the least efficient way of accessing government data that could ever be devised, and to some degree I imagine that’s deliberate. But it’s 2015, we have have a new government with a new mandate, and it’s time to fix it.
The Trudeau campaign made a lot of promises to a lot of people, but his promises on open access and freedom of information reform are some of the most critical. An accountable government is something Canadians have been waiting for since well before Harper, and ensuring the public’s right to know is the first step to bringing that back.