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Five ways Ottawa stymies Access to Information requests

Editorial cartoon by Anthony Jenkins

Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail

1. Delay. Departments routinely grant themselves time extensions of between 60 to 270 days beyond the set deadlines - after receiving access to information requests because they have to "consult" on the matter with other departments. When asked why it takes so long, officials blame backlogs in processing access requests.

2. Hit 'em with big bills. Departments sometimes respond to an access to information request by quoting a hefty cost for searching for the documents rather than working with the requester to fine-tune the request.

3. Don't create official records of what you are saying or doing. Access to information researchers complain that some senior officials are communicating important ideas or matters to one another orally rather than e-mailing or drawing up memos. Sometimes officials write on documents using sticky notes rather than on the records themselves in case they are requested under access to information.

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4. Be nitpicky and legalistic in interpreting requests. Or misconstrue what's requested. "They call up and say `What do you mean by this?' when the term is obvious," access expert Michael Dagg said.

5. Censor liberally before releasing the records. Officials sometimes are aggressive in their use of exemptions allowed under access to information, even for uses that the courts have deemed inappropriate in the past. Officials are betting that requesters won't complain to the Information Commissioner or take it to court.

Sources: Michel Drapeau; Bill Stanbury; Michael Dagg; Alasdair Roberts

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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