The right to information is a key foundation of democracy – but did you know that it is also internationally recognised as a human right?
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is at the bedrock of international human rights law, every one has the right “to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. The same language is used in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, both of which Canada has ratified. The right to information is also protected in dozens of constitutions around the world, including Canada’s. According to a Supreme Court decision in 2010, section 2(b) of the Constitution, which protects freedom of expression, also includes a derivative right to access information, though the Court noted that this only applies “where access is necessary to permit meaningful discussion on a matter of public importance”.
Despite the importance of the right to information, successive governments, both at the federal and provincial level, have treated transparency as a low priority. According to a recent audit by Newspapers Canada, federal agencies adhere to the 30-day deadline for responding to access to information requests less than half of the time, and only 43% of the requests filed as part of the study were returned in full. At the provincial level, the FOIPOP system continues to stagnate despite concrete pledges by Stephen McNeil, made in the run up to the last election, to pass meaningful reforms. Last year, Mr. McNeil backtracked on this pledge, saying that: “people have access to information, and at (this) point, we’re going to continue with the process that’s been working.”
Canadians deserve better, and we should demand better.