According to a May 31 report by Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, responses to information requests by many government departments, including the Department of National Defence, have improved since 2008-09. However, these gains may be compromised by budget cuts limiting resources allocated to respond to information requests.
CBC News’ Meagan Fitzpatrick elaborates on Legault’s concerns (“Budget cuts threaten access to information, watchdog says,” CBC News, 31 May 2012):
“While the overall results are initially positive and encouraging, I remain concerned that the system as a whole is fragile. The cuts announced in the latest budget challenged all departments and institutions to scrutinize every corner of their operations to save money,” said Legault at a news conference.
The Commissioner found that most departments investigated had implemented recommendations on responding to access to information requests, improving their performance, since her first report. A lack of resources, as well as staff turnover and workload, were cited as reasons why a few departments showed a decline in performance:
Legault said the access to information areas within government departments tend to be vulnerable when there are cuts and she has already heard from some requestors that they’ve been told their files are being delayed because of cuts.
She named the Departments of National Defence and Foreign Affairs and International Trade as ones that have improved, and said progress could be reversed due to cuts.
“If resources are being cut in these institutions, there is a risk that delays will creep up again and that will impede and have a negative impact on requestors’ rights,” she said.
While Legault’s own office is facing challenges due to federal budget cuts, she plans to continue monitoring compliance with the Access to Information Act through annual reports and subsequent report cards.
The Department of National Defence received a ‘B’ on her 2010-11 report card, up from a ‘D’ in 2008-09, while Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada improved somewhat from an alarming ‘Red alert’ assessment to a still below-average ‘D’ in the same time period.