Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department has systematically prevented the release of hundreds of thousands of government records on everything from the mission in Afghanistan to the NATO briefing materials Maxime Bernier left at his girlfriend’s, to new free trade deals, Canwest News Service has learned.
Two legal experts say the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) violated Canada’s Access to Information (ATI) laws when it decided to systematically charge “preparation fees” before responding to Access to Information requests, effectively creating a barrier to government records being sought by ordinary Canadians, academics, businesses, and journalists.
An official with the Office of the Information Commissioner, Parliament’s ATI watchdog, said it is investigating complaints that have been filed over the policy.
“There is an issue there over possible denial of access,” Andrea Neill, the assistant commissioner of information, said Friday.
DFAIT is the only major federal government department insisting “preparation fees” be paid before releasing records under the Access to Information Act.
Preparation fees cover the cost of the censors — the actual act of blacking out sensitive government information. They do not cover the cost of searching for the documents or photocopying.
Ironically, Canwest News Service learned about DFAIT’s policy to charge preparation fees for Access to Information requests through records disclosed because of an Access to Information request.
“This is illegal as stink,” said Amir Attaran, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who has sued the federal government over its disclosure policies. Attaran has used ATI laws to force the federal government to turn over important information about the way Canada was treating prisoners captured in Afghanistan . . . [Read the rest]