September 27 to October 3 is a special time, celebrated across the country, to raise awareness about access rights and freedom of information. I’ll be joining my fellow commissioners in a series of activities throughout the week to put the spotlight on access to information and I hope you’ll take part too.
As we continue to search for light at the end of this long pandemic tunnel, the need for openness, transparency, and accountability is more important than ever. As Ontarians, we continue to look for insight into the decisions and actions being taken by public organizations to keep our families and communities safe. We also look for the numbers, trends, and statistics that will help us better understand the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. During these uncertain times, institutions must continue to do all they can, not only to respond to access requests, but also be proactive in disclosing non-identifiable information that’s important for the public to know.
Simply put, freedom of information is essential to a healthy democracy and good governance. It helps people make better sense of government decision-making and the policies and issues that matter to them.
I am especially proud of the work the IPC does day in and day out to help Ontarians exercise their access rights. In the vast majority of access appeals brought to our office, my highly dedicated and able staff successfully brings the parties to a mutually agreeable outcome through early resolution and mediation, helping save time and effort for all involved.
In April of this year, my office released the strategic priorities that will guide the IPC’s work throughout my term as commissioner. We identified where we will focus our energies to advance the key access and privacy issues that are most important to the people of Ontario, including Privacy and Transparency in a Modern Government.
My office is engaging in a number of activities to advance this priority during Right to Know Week. I will be kicking off the week by participating in a commissioners’ panel at the Public Service Information Community Connection (PSICC) Right to Know Week conference on September 28 from 2:30 to 3:20 p.m. EDT. It’s free and open to the public, so I hope you can join us.
We’ll also be launching new guidance on how and when public institutions can apply the “public interest override” provision in Ontario’s access and privacy laws. This guidance describes how, and in what circumstances, organizations can override certain access exemptions and disclose a record when there is a compelling public interest to do so.
For podcast fans, this week we’ll be launching a new episode of Info Matters. In this fascinating conversation, journalist Jim Bronskill and I discuss the various ways freedom of information (FOI) has helped investigative journalists like him break some of the biggest front-page stories in Canada, shedding light on really important information Canadians need to know.
In case you missed it, our episode on de-mystifying the FOI process is another good listen if you’d like to hear about the nuts and bolts of filing access to information requests and get tips on how to get the information you need.
You can learn more about the history of Right to Know Week by visiting righttoknow.ca. You can also follow the #RTK2021 hashtag on Twitter to find out about virtual events and other activities happening across the country.
I hope you’ll join us and your fellow Canadians to mark the importance of access rights and freedom of information that go to the very core of our free and democratic society.
You have a right to know, so don’t be afraid to ask! Government institutions have a legal obligation to respond to you. We are hopeful that soon, with new digital technology, a little ingenuity, and courageous leadership, more and more information will be publicly released without you even having to ask.
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