The Office of the Information Commission of Canada (OIC) has commenced a public consultation regarding the modernization of the Access to Information Act (Canada). The consultation period commenced on September 28, 2012 and will continue until December 21, 2012.

Individuals and organizations interested in participating in the public consultation may do so electronically. The OIC has dedicated webpages to submit feedback. The General Questions tab provides space for an online forum regarding five themes:

Right of Access. The OIC asks whether only persons who are citizens or physically present in Canada should be able to obtain government held records.

Coverage of the Act. The OIC asks what criteria should determine whether a federal entity that spends taxpayer money or performs public functions is or is not subject to access to information legislation.

Limitation on the Right of Access. The OIC asks whether the categorical approach to certain exemptions from disclosure should be eliminated and replaced with a case by case approach requiring the federal institution to establish that injury, harm or prejudice would result. The OIC also asks what role the public interest should play.

Cabinet Confidences. The OIC asks whether Cabinet deliberative secrecy should continue to be invoked to prevent disclosure of records that directly inform Cabinet decisions. If the exclusion is to be maintained, the OIC asks on what basis and whether the Commissioner should be able to review those documents.

Awareness and Education. The OIC notes that the Commissioner has not education and awareness mandate and asks whether this should change.

In addition to the General Questions, the OIC has prepared specific, more detailed questions to which it invites submissions.

As the OIC states, “[a]ccess to information underpins many of our most cherished rights and freedoms such as the freedom of expression the freedom of the press and the right to vote.” It is to be hoped that Commissioner Legault is successful in sparking an organized discussion on reform.