Access to Information Act
The Access to Information Act was enacted by Parliament in 1982 and took effect in July of 1983. This federal Act entitles an individual to examine information concerning the conduct of government, including information in connection with the formulation of federal government policy. This so-called "freedom of information" law provides an opportunity for an individual to request information from government and provides for the speedy provision of the information at a reasonable cost. It establishes an information commissioner to assist the individual and provides for certain exemptions under which some or all of the information may be withheld.
At present, an applicant may apply to the Trial Division of the Federal Court of Canada for a review, in camera, of a decision by government to invoke an exemption and withhold information. Also, at present, there is a section of the Act which excludes Cabinet documents from the ambit of the entire statute. A major review of the experience under the new legislation was conducted by a parliamentary committee in 1986 and 1987, culminating in the spring of 1987 with a series of recommendations for improvements in the legislation. Following this, the then government rejected the committee's recommendations for a more expansive Act.
In the intervening years, most provinces have enacted comparable legislation affecting government information falling within provincial jurisdiction. The most recent enactment took place in the Province of Alberta. The various legislative schemes vary from province to province. For example, in Manitoba, instead of establishing an information commissioner, the law delegates the commissioner's function to the existing provincial ombudsman.
In addition, some municipalities have also enacted access to information laws. The City of Edmonton, for example, was one of the first cities to do so.
Access to information laws are closely connected to so-called privacy laws. Often access to information and privacy laws are enacted together as a single passage (both federally and in several provinces). In this context, the term privacy refers to access to information about oneself contained in government databanks.