Canadian journalists battle for access to federal data

CAJ urges Ottawa to reverse decision on information database

OTTAWA, May 5 /CNW/ – The Canadian Association of Journalists is deeply concerned by an ongoing pattern of shutting off access to information by the federal government.

The Tories’ recent decision to end updates to the federal government registry that tracked access to information requests means the general public, researchers and journalists will now find it much harder to keep track of government information.

The CAJ believes the elimination of the CAIRS database is part of a disturbing trend by Ottawa toward less openness toward government information, a trend that could ultimately result in the public only getting the information government wants it to know.

The Canadian Association of Journalists is calling on the federal government to maintain a database of access to information requests used by lawyers, academics, journalists and ordinary citizens. On May 2, Treasury Board officials confirmed the department has stopped updating the Co-ordination of Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS), a government registry that tracked access to information requests. The registry, created in 1989, kept a record of every such request submitted to the federal government and has proven an invaluable reference tool.

“Killing this registry will make it more difficult for all of us to hold the federal government to account,” CAJ president Mary Agnes Welch said. “We are asking Treasury Board President Vic Toews and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reinstate updates to the database in order to maintain an effective tool in keeping their government open and accountable.”

By ending updates to the database, the government removes a tool used by researchers looking to see what information has been released through access-to-information requests. Without updates to the database, it will become only easier over time for federal departments to delay, obfuscate and potentially withhold valuable government information.

Post Author: Neil Black