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Governments falling short on access to information

The Parliament of Canada is seen in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/Globe and Mail

Governments at all levels are still falling well short of providing speedy and comprehensive access to information, a new survey suggests.

An audit conducted for Newspapers Canada, a private industry association, involved hundreds of access requests to federal, provincial and municipal governments across the country earlier this year. The responses were then graded on speed of response and completeness.

The results were mediocre.

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On response times, the federal government scored a D, with the provinces getting a C overall and municipalities rating a B.

On completeness, all three levels were graded C.

The audit found some troubling trends in the various access systems, with some jurisdictions bumping up fees and one province making it easier for bureaucrats to dismiss requests.

Fred Vallance-Jones, an associate professor at the University of King's College in Halifax who did the audit, said the results suggest there hasn't been a lot of progress in improving access.

"Over all is the system getting better and faster and more efficient than it was before? I don't really see compelling evidence of that.

"The municipal level is still largely pretty good, the federal level is still pretty slow and at the provincial level it's kind of a mixed bag."

Some jurisdictions work fast, but don't provide much, while others drag their feet, but eventually cough up more information.

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The full text of the Newspapers Canada audit is available at: www.newspaperscanada.ca/public-affairs/FOI2012

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