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Feds dispute low ranking for openness

The Harper government is dismissing a report that ranks it 55th in the world for upholding freedom of information, saying it has a sterling record for openness.

But a four-page document outlining the federal rebuttal took five months to release after a request under the Access to Information Act, underscoring the very delay problem that contributed to Canada's dismal ranking.

A human-rights group based in Halifax has issued three report cards since 2011 on Canada's anemic standing in the world with regard to so-called right-to-know legislation.

The Centre for Law and Democracy used a 61-point tool to measure Canada's legislation against that of other countries, in co-operation with Madrid-based Access Info Europe.

Canada's standing in September 2011 was 40th of 89 countries, fell to 51st in June last year, then to 55th of 93 countries last September, behind Mongolia and Colombia.

"While standards around the world have advanced, Canada's access laws have stagnated and sometimes even regressed," the centre concluded, noting Canada was a world leader in 1983 when its federal information law came into force.

The research won praise from Canada's information commissioner, Suzanne Legault, who said "the analysis that this group has done is going to be a really useful tool" in her own investigation into freedom-of-information issues.

But an internal memo last summer to Treasury Board President Tony Clement cites the report's "weaknesses," saying the methodology "does not allow for an accurate comparison of the openness of a society and of its government."

The memo from Michelle d'Auray, then secretary of the Treasury Board which oversees the access-to-information system, noted the report did not take into account the government's pro-active disclosure of information; the 2006 expansion of the Act to cover some 250 additional entities such as Crown corporations; or years of court rulings that reinforce citizens' right to information.

The internal memo was among a group of records requested from Treasury Board last September by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The Canadian Press


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