"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Right to No Week 2013 (I)

Another Right to No Know Week has come and gone already. Only 51 shopping weeks left till Right to No Week 2014.

In the former Dannystan, there are some moves for which the government deserves at least partial credit, including the posting of restaurant inspections — formerly cited by the gormless Paul Davis during the Bill 29 debate as an example of the sort of thing it was unreasonable to request — and the posting of completed access to information requests.

A detailed examination of the latter, however, reveals both a heavy reliance on Bill 29 to refuse access to records, in whole or in part, as well as a broader pattern of obfuscation and abuse, on the part of government, of the Access to Information regime.

First, the big picture. Up to last week, the Office of Public Engagement had posted the responses to 212 Access to Information requests to provincial government departments and agencies. (Other bodies subject to the Act are not included in these proactive disclosures.)

Here's how the 212 break down.

Just over 70% of requests were "granted", either in whole or "in part". Among the rest, 13% were refused outright; 10% were met with the phrase, not defined in the legislation, that there were no "responsive" records; 3% resulted in the applicant being told the record sought is already public; and 2% saw other results, including a referral to a federal department, and an invitation to come to the office and view the document in question in person.

So, 42% of requests are "granted". Great news, right? Well, not so quick.

As The Telegram editorial of October 1, 2009 noted:
An ordinary citizen got in touch with one of the contacts listed in a press release about Premier Danny Williams' trip to California this week to attend the Governor's Global Climate Summit 2 with two simple questions: who else is going with the premier, and what was the trip expected to cost?

The response from the premier's office? You'll have to file an access to information request.
The ATI leopard has not changed its spots since 2009: of the 89 "granted" requests, nearly two-thirds were in response to mere questions of fact — not to requests for access to records, which is what the Act actually governs. Another request was for a piece of legislation, which the respondent department helpfully printed off and provided by way of satisfying the request... despite s. 14 of the Act, which tells them to "refuse" the request and direct the applicant towards the published source. Only 35% of "granted" requests were proper ATI requests for records. The rest were factual queries which departments or agencies, in a truly open and accountable government, would have answered without "application" process or fee. This is the breakdown of "granted" requests by the nature of the request:

Recalibrating the original chart, then, yields:

Over 1/4 of posted ATI requests were mere factual questions, whose responses were "granted". Just 15% of all ATI requests actually consist of requests for records, which were granted without redaction.

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