Canada’s Broken Freedom of Information System

Robyn Doolittle and Tom Cardoso, the Globe and Mail:

When the federal government enacted its legislation 40 years ago, Canada was among the first 10 countries in the world to do so, making it a global leader. But today, after decades of neglect by successive provincial and federal governments, Canada’s freedom of information regime is broken.


As part of the Secret Canada reporting, The Globe conducted an audit of how provincial, territorial and federal governments are handling access requests. (Each jurisdiction has its own freedom of information law.) In total, The Globe filed 253 individual FOI requests with every government department and ministry in the country, seeking access to their 2021 internal request tracking systems.

All 22 ministries in Alberta refused to comply with The Globe’s FOIs. […]

This province in which I live continues to be a national shame. The Globe spent over a year trying to get anything out of the Albertan government, and they only began complying with their legal obligations this month.

As part of this project, the Globe launched Secret Canada, a searchable database of 300,000 information request summaries. At a national level, it is similar to the Open Canada library, but it also includes provincial records. Well, except from Alberta. Unlike many U.S. departments, completed record requests for public documents are not made generally available. If you want a copy of any of these, you must request them and wait for the cogs in this broken system to slowly turn out your copy. I requested a copy of an existing completed records request on March 2 this year, and it took until May 8 to receive them.

There are reasons for this; the Globe’s investigation is extensive. Sometimes, these problems are understandable; often, they are not, and point to public organizations which do not prioritize transparency.