Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

“Right to Know” and Other Words That Sound Good


rtkEvery year Canada joins countries from around the world in recognizing the “right of individuals to access information held by public bodies”. This year, Canada celebrated “International Right to Know” day on September 28th and “Right to Know” week from September 28th to October 2nd.

In addition to the federal Access to Information Act, each province and territory has freedom of information legislation providing individuals with rights to the access of information. However, the information you can request differs between the provinces and territories. A formal application can be made by filling out the appropriate forms and sending them to the proper designate within a specific government institution. You may be charged various fees for information gathering, photocopying and mailing. The institution has 30 days to respond to your application. Their response could include the requested information, a time extension or a refusal of access. If you are not happy with their response you can ask your provincial/territorial Information and Privacy Commissioner to review the decision.

There has been a great deal of talk in Saskatchewan about government transparency and accountability. In September I exercised my right to request access to information held by my regional health authority and the Ministry of Health. My request to the Saskatoon Health Region asked for information on a number of their policies and procedures. My request to the Ministry of Health asked for written reports on critical incidents submitted to them by regional health authorities and health care organizations in Saskatchewan for 2008 and 2009. I received a letter from the health region informing me that they have 30 days to provide a response. Two days ago, I received a letter from the Ministry of Health denying my request based on a number of Acts. They included a copy of the Acts for my reference. They also indicated that they would be able to disclose the summary information and provincial issue alerts resulting from the review of critical incidents. I suppose I will need to submit a new request for this information.

What does the phrase “Right to Know” really mean in Canada? Based on my experience it means that our government likes the sound of these words almost as much as “transparency” and “accountability”.

For more information on your “Right to Know” in Canada please visit a website run by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada.

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