FOI in Canada: fewer requests being made

According to a study carried out by the British Columbian Freedom of Information and Privacy Association (FIPA), fewer people are making freedom of information requests, response times are steadily increasing and access to politically sensitive information is becoming more difficult to attain.

The study, entitled Access Denied: an analysis of the BC Government’s response to freedom of information requests, 2000–2005, was conducted by the non-profit organization and sponsored by the Canadian Newspaper Association and the BC Government and Service Employees Union.

“We’re here to hold the government’s feet to the fire,” FIPA’s executive director Darrel Evans said. “[The results from the study] mean that it’s getting more and more difficult to get access to government information.”

Evans explained that exactly what information is difficult to access depends on the government’s Corporate Privacy and Information Access Branch—the body that determines which freedom of information (FOI) requests are flagged as “sensitive.” These requests take longer to process and are more likely to be characterized as what the study calls “deemed refusals.”

“There are a lot of deemed refusals, which simply means that the government doesn’t respond in the time the legislation says they must and that’s directly attributable to loss of staff within the Ministry,” Evans explained.

Aside from time delays, the study also found that 65 per cent of survey respondents were charged a fee to access documents and that 31 per cent had abandoned a request because a fee was charged. “Higher fee estimates are given now. I’d say that because most of them don’t stand up to appeal, they’re really just a vexatious tactic to discourage requesters,” Evans said.

FOI requests decline in BC (The Gateway, Vancouver, 2 November 2006)