Almost immediately after the Access to Information Act first became law in 1985, there have been proposals on how to reform, improve, and fundamentally fix it. Over the past 35 years, those ideas, proposals, plans, bills, studies, reports, and reviews have stacked higher and higher — and not one has actually been acted on. There have been only three sets of substantial, specific amendments to the act, in 2002, 2005 and 2018. Those amendments ignored the consensus opinion, sometimes ignoring the government’s own commitments and plans, and proceeded with only minor tweaks. Under Justin Trudeau, in particular, Ottawa has proceeded with changes that have fundamentally weakened Canadians’ right to know.

This is a non-exhausive list of all of the calls to fix the Act. They range from the general, modest, and practical to the ambitious, detailed, and innovative. There is an incredible amount of repition in these reports and recommendations. Generally, all of these plans agree on thing fronts: Expand the offices covered by the Act; limit the exemptions to withholding information; improve oversight; address delays; and impelement a better duty to document.

This timeline of failure is here not to highlight the hopeless nature of reform. It is here to draw attention to the fact that any government, Liberal or Conservative, could have taken any of these plans and implemented them without delay.

But every single government since 1987 has chosen not to.

The only thing stopping the current government from pursuing these amendments is a belief that they can get away with continued secrecy because public does not care.


The Access to Information Act becomes law.


“Our review has enabled us to identify a number of emerging and parallel issues which are now beyond the scope of the Acts in their present form but which must be addressed.”

Open and shut: enhancing the right to know and the right to privacy. [Standing Committee on Justice, 1987]


Liberal Member of Parliament John Bryden proposes a plan to update and expand the Act. His bill, the Open Government Act, will be introduced multiple times over the next decade, but never becomes law.

“We will have to modernize the Access to Information Act which, at the time it came in, was very, very good legislation, but over time has become more and more an instrument to retain government documents rather than to open government documents.”

John Bryden


The Access to Information Act is amended for the first time, to make it illegal to improperly destroy or falsify a government document.


The federal government launches a task force to review the Act and recommend updates.


“Will this Task Force bring forth proposals designed to serve the interests of Canadians who use the law over the interests of the bureaucrats who administer it?”

Annual Report [Information Commissioner]

“Transparency leads to efficiency and efficiency leads to shared knowledge and increased competitiveness. Even more important, transparency gives people confidence in their country and its democratic institutions.”

Reforming the Access to Information Act [John Bryden, Canadian Parliamentary Review]

“The government’s administration of the law has been a source of frustration for individual requesters and the public generally, mainly as a result of undue delays and denials by federal government institutions of access to public information. Government institutions regularly refuse to release information and records that should, under the law, be regularly released.”

From Secrecy to Openness [Open Government Canada]


“The principles of access to information must be embedded in the organizational culture of the public service.”

Access to Information: Making it Work for Canadians. [Access to Information Review Task Force]

“By any reasonable measure, the Task Force review ‘process’ was entirely inadequate for determining how to strengthen the right of access. As a result, there is a great irony in the title which the Task Force gave to its report: ‘Making it Work For Canadians.’ […] this set of reform proposals might, more aptly, be titled: ‘Making it (less) work for government officials.’

Response to the Report of the Access to Information Review Task Force. [Information Commissioner]

The Task Force report, and its 139 recommendations, is ignored.


“The Access to Information Act has been in effect since 1983, but many Canadians say it does not work as the legislation was intended. With numerous exemptions, and with those handling the requests usually taking the maximum time allowed for responding, the law
really operates to restrict access.”

Restoring Accountability. [Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program & Advertising Activities]

Following revelations from the sponsorship scandal, the Martin government publishes a plan to update the Access to Information Act. While modest, the proposals heed some of the recommendations made over the past two decades — including new limits on the use of ‘cabinet confidence’ to withhold information.

The Information Commissioner responds with a draft bill that would, amongst other things, create a ‘public interest override’ to compel the disclosure of documents where the public has a right to know.

“Canada’s Access to Information Act was once a model to the world in providing a mechanism to ensure openness and transparency. But in practice, over the years, officials and governments hostile to the objectives of the Act have succeeded in narrowing its powers.”

In Pursuit of Meaningful Access to Information Reform [Canadian Newspaper Association]

“The results of the audit point to problems of red tape, poor disclosure, prohibitive fees and noncompliance with statutory time limits for responses across all levels of government.” [Grade: F]

National Freedom of Information Audit [News Media Canada]

“The Access to Information Act should be amended to: Expand coverage of the act to all Crown corporations, all officers of Parliament, all foundations and to all organizations that spend taxpayers’ dollars or perform public functions.”

Motion Passed by the House of Commons


The new Harper government releases a discussion paper on updating the Act. Citing “a widely-held view that the Access to Information Act is not broken, the paper dismisses the idea of a public interest override and limiting the cabinet confidence exemption.

When the federal Accountability Act is tabled, the Access to Information Act sees its second round of substantial amendments. The law is expanded to cover Crown corporations and smaller government bodies, and to require that departments assist requesters. Most other recommendations are ignored, and a raft of new exemptions and exceptions are added to the law.

“The federal government routinely frustrates FOI requests from journalists by making indiscriminate, excessive demands for extensions to the statutory 30-day period for responses.”

National Freedom of Information Audit [News Media Canada]


“On 12 key points, Canada’s 1982 Access to Information Act fails to meet the international standards of freedom of information law.”

Fallen Behind: Canada’s Access to Information Act in the World Context [Stanley Tromp]


“[This year’s assessment results] provide a grim picture of the federal government’s access to information regime.”

Systemic Issues Affecting Access to Information in Canada. [Information Commissioner]

“The Access to Information Act must be strengthened to meet today’s imperatives. While it is recognized that the Act is sound in terms of its concept and balance, work is urgently needed to modernize it from a legislative perspective and to align it with more progressive regimes both nationally and internationally.”

Strengthening the Access to Information Act To Meet Today’s Imperatives [Information Commissioner]

“One problem is that much government business that once would have been reduced to writing is now done ‘below the radar screen,’ by emails that are erased and, in many cases, lost.”

Remarks of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.


“This right is at risk of being totally obliterated because delays threaten to render the entire access regime irrelevant in our current information economy.”

Out of Time.[Information Commissioner]

“Canada comes last [against the U.K, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand] as it has continually suffered from a combination of low use, low political support and a weak Information Commissioner since its inception.”

Assessing the performance of freedom of information [Robert Hazell and Ben Worthy, Constitution Unit at University College London]

“Any commitment that exists in Ottawa to answering requests in a timely fashion is being overwhelmed by a tsunami of time extensions, and suggestions of political interference in the processing of requests under the Access to Information Act.”

National Freedom of Information Audit [News Media Canada]


“I am more than ever convinced that the winning strategy to reverse the decline in timeliness and disclosure of information must include a modernization of the Act and its administration.”

Open Outlook, Open Access [Information Commissioner]

“The law was drafted such that it is very difficult for the Information Commissioner to ensure that political staff members are held accountable for interference with the Act.”

Interference with Access to Information: Part 1 [Information Commissioner]


“A review of the major proposals for reform of Canada’s access to information legislation, put forward during the Act’s 26 years of operation, indicates several key features upon which there appears to be consensus.”

The Access to Information Act and Proposals for Reform [Library of Parliament]


“Information is the lifeblood of democracy. Loss of information or an infringement on requesters’ right of access should not be quietly accepted simply because the impact of new technologies has not been properly considered.”

Access to information at risk from instant messaging. [Information Commissioner]


“It was assumed that successive governments would build on the original access foundations. Yet, in the thirty years since its implementation, only parginal and piecemeal changes have been made to federal access laws.”

Irresponsible Government: The Decline of Parliamentary Democracy in Canada [Brent Rathgeber]

“Once again in 2014, the federal government’s performance is among the worst.” [Grade: F]

National Freedom of Information Audit [News Media Canada]

“There is no doubt that our current access to information regime is outdated and needs to be updated to reflect governance and technologies in the 21st century. The world’s strongest access to information systems have been updated within the last five years. Ours is stuck in the 1980s.”

Justin Trudeau


“We will ensure that Access to Information applies to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices.”

[Liberal Party platform]


“RECOMMENDATION 3: That in the first phase of the reform of the Access to Information Act, the Act be extended to include the Prime Minister’s Office, offices of ministers and ministers of State, and parliamentary secretaries, except in regards to their parliamentary functions.”

Review of the Access to Information Act. [Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics]


The Trudeau government introduces C-58, the most significant change to the Access to Information Act in over a decade. The bill eliminates most fees, but fails to follow through on any other major commitments from the Liberal Party platform. The legislation makes it easier for departments to refuse requests.

“After studying [Bill C-58], I have concluded that the proposed amendments to the Access to Information Act will not advance government transparency. The proposed bill fails to deliver on the government’s promises. If passed, it would result in a regression of existing rights.”

Failing to Strike the Right Balance – Recommendations to Improve Bill C-58 [Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault]

“Bill C-58 makes the situation worse, not better.”

Submissions to House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. [BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association]

“Everyone who truly believes in access to information reform will be seriously disappointed by the Bill that has been tabled.”

Submissions to House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics. [Centre for Law and Democracy]

“The federal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau[‘s] performance was even worse than in the latter years of the former Stephen Harper government.” [Grade: F]

National Freedom of Information Audit [News Media Canada]


“Unfortunately, many of our recommendations have not been adopted, and we urge further amendments to Bill C-58 to protect the quasi-constitutional access to information rights of Canadians.”

Submissions on bill C-58 [Canadian Bar Association]


C-58 becomes law. Amendments make small improvements to the Information Commissioner’s powers, but all other significant amendments proposed at committee are killed.

“The high level of protection afforded to Cabinet confidences at the federal level is unparalleled in Canadian provinces and other Westminster jurisdictions.”

Reconciling Cabinet Secrecy with the Rule of Law [Yan Campagnolo]


Ottawa launches yet another round of Access to Information consultations.

“Today I am writing to you to signal that the access to information system, a key pillar in safeguarding this trust, is currently in a critical phase and may soon be beyond repair if certain ongoing and developing issues remain unaddressed.”

Letter to Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos [Information Commissioner]

“Although it was once among the world’s leaders in terms of government openness, Canada now ranks relatively poorly on the RTI Rating, mainly due to global progress in this area, which Canada has failed to keep pace.”

Global Right to Information Ranking. [Centre for Law and Democracy]

“The first edition of this book in 2008 detailed how Canada’s Access to Information Act had fallen behind the rest of the world’s FOI laws. Since then, the problem has only grown far worse.”

Fallen Behind: Canada’s Access to Information Act in the World Context, Second Edition [Stanley Tromp]

The Information Commissioner finds widespread abuse of the Act inside National Defence and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.


“[This] is an excellent opportunity for the government to address what numerous stakeholders, as well as many of my predecessors and I, have been requesting for a long time: a fundamental reform of the access to information regime.”

Observations and Recommendations on the Government of Canada’s Review of the Access to Information Regime. [Information Commissioner]

“Canada’s access-to-information regime was thus at its weakest point in the last four decades just as COVID-19 hit – a health emergency that requires greater transparency, not less.”

Submission to the review of the Access to Information Act [Dean Beeby]

“This review presents the federal government an opportunity to course correct and move the access system in the right direction.”

Submission to the review of the Access to Information Act [BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association]

“Today we have an Act with exceptions and exemptions that have been stretched beyond recognition to prevent disclosures, a critically under-resourced access system not equipped to keep up with requests, and a culture of secrecy within government that views access as a threat rather than a right of all Canadians. Despite these challenges, the access system is not beyond repair.”

Submission to the review of the Access to Information Act [Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University]

Ottawa publishes an “interim What We Heard report” which broadly ignored the 33 submissions it received and the pointed criticism made during virtual roundtables. It makes no commitment to legislative or regulatory change, but promises a “final report” by 2022.


“After years of neglect, Canada’s access to information system is in crisis.”

Fix Canada’s broken access to information system [Canadian Association of Journalists]

In late December, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier finally tables its final report into the Access to Information Act. Despite an overwhelming consensus that legislative changes are desperately needed, the report does not commit to any particular reforms. Despite their own promise to extend the Act to cover ministers’ offices, the review makes clear the government intends to break that promise.


If we don’t act now, Canadians’ right to know may disappear entirely. Canada will continue its slide into becoming one of the most opaque and secretive countries in the G7. The quality of our government will suffer.