Canada’s Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault has been conducting a wide-ranging review of Canada’s federal access to information legislation. These efforts follow Canada’s recently poor ranking for right-to-know legislation across the globe conducted by the Centre for Law and Democracy. In 2011, Canada’s standing was 40th of 89 countries; in June 2012, Canada’s ranking was 55th of 93 countries. Legault said the “the analysis that this group has done is going to be a really useful tool” as she begins her investigation.
Included in Legault’s review is a recommendation for elected officials to be subject to freedom of information legislation — a recommendation that the Information Commissioner of Ontario, Ann Cavoukian, made to the provincial Ontario government a week earlier.
Typically, elected officials in Canada are not subject to access legislation although there are varying rules for different government levels. “We have a complete patchwork and types of either legislation or policies, both formal and informal. It’s very difficult for citizens to actually hold their elected officials accountable because the rules differ at the municipal, provincial and federal level and they differ between provinces,” she said.
Legault’s Information Commissioner predecessor, Robert Marleau, made a similar recommendation to the government in 2009. At the time, Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson identified some “challenges,” including the concept of parliamentary privilege, and said further study would be needed. Legault acknowledges there are challenges, saying “There is always a concern about constituency work and political (party) information, and with personal information and parliamentary privilege information, but that does not mean it can’t be covered with exemptions,” she said.
Ultimately, Legault feels that “I think Canadians actually want to have high levels of accountability systems, for anywhere that their taxpayer dollars are being spent.”
Whether in Canada or the U.S., how much privilege should elected officials be given over their information?