Canada's New Access Laws: Public And
Personal Access To Government Documents, edited by Donald C. Rowat, Ottawa,
Carleton University, 1983, 165 p.
This book comprises a series of essays
written by Professor Rowat's graduate students at Carleton University in a
special seminar on Canada s new access to information laws given in the winter
term 1983. By that time the federal government and four of the provinces,
namely: Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Quebec, had adopted an
access law. In addition, in Ontario, a commission had recommended that a public
and personal access statute be enacted. and this recommendation had been
accepted in principle. though not yet acted upon, by the Ontario government.
A similar book composed of a series of
graduate student essays and edited by Professor Rowat was entitled The Right to
Know. The book first appeared in 1980 and was updated in second and third
editions in 1981. That book contained a detailed analysis of the public access
pan of the federal Bill, C43, which was subsequently amended and enacted into
two pieces of legislation. the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act.
The present book's emphasis is therefore not on the federal legislation, but
rather on provincial legislation.
The book is divided into two parts Part I is
composed of three essays discussing the relevant federal legislation. One essay
is devoted to problems concerning the implementation of the Access to
Information Act and the likely consequences the Act will have for the
information management function within the federal government. Another points
to a number of shortcomings in the then existing Part IV of the Canadian Human
Rights Act. These provisions have since been repealed with the coming into
force of the Privacy Act. For instance, while Part IV of the Canadian Human
Rights Act conferred broad rights of access to personal information contained
in federal government files, it did not grant a right to judicial review of
decisions to refuse access. Appeals could be taken by aggrieved individuals to
a Privacy Commissioner who was given the power only to investigate and
recommend disclosure, the ultimate power to decide resided with the appropriate
minister. The essay rightfully points out that a very significant improvement
in the new Privacy Act is the provision allowing for an appeal of the minister
s decision to the Federal Court. A third essay outlines a number of concerns
connected with the Privacy Act. The author notes that some of the possible
problem areas may, in fact, never be barriers to access to personal information
depending on how the relevant provisions are interpreted by departmental
officials, the Privacy Commissioner and the courts.
The second part of the book consists of a
series of six essays dealing with developments at the provincial level One
essay is devoted to the access legislation in each of the tour provinces wh6
have thus far adopted such a law. In addition there are two essays discussing
the recommendations of the Ontario Commission on Freedom of Information and
Individual Privacy. The explanations of the relevant statutes are clear and
concise. Positive as well as negative aspects of the legislation are pointed
The essay on Nova Scotia notes that among
other things, that province was the first, Commonwealth jurisdiction to enact
access to information legislation on November 1, 1977. Rather than adopting the
American approach of a broad genera! principle of access subject to specified
exceptions, the Nova Scotia legislation establishes a right of access to only
certain categories of information subject to specific exemptions. The statute
contains no provision for an independent review of ministry decisions
concerning the release of information. Refusals to grant access can be appealed
only to the Legislature, which is, of course, controlled by the government.
As pointed out in the essay on New Brunswick
s legislation, that province enacted its Right to Information Act in June 1978,
however. the statute was not proclaimed in force until January 1, 1980. The New
Brunswick Act generally followed the American pattern of adopting a broad
principle of public access subject to certain specified exemptions. The appeal
procedure outlined in the New Brunswick Act differs from both the federal Act
and that of Nova Scotia. It provides an applicant with two routes of appeal in
disputed cases. He c, she may either refer the matter to the Provincial
Ombudsman or to a Judge of the Queen s Bench. however. if he elects to go to
the court and his request for information is denied he cannot then turn to the
Ombudsman. Judicial review is thus the final step in the process. The essay
provides several interesting examples of cases where, or, appeal to the court,
information was ordered to be released.
The province of Newfoundland enacted its
Freedom of Information Act in June 1981 to come into force on January 1. 1982
in terms similar to those of the New Brunswick legislation. The essay notes
that the Newfoundland statute provides for an appeal to the provincial
Ombudsman followed. it need be, by an appeal to the trial division of the
Supreme Court of Newfoundland.
In Quebec, the relevant statute was passed
in June 1982. but, the provisions creating rights of access had yet to be
proclaimed in force when this book was written. Under the Quebec statute, a
person who is denied access to information may appeal to an Appeal Commission.
A further appeal may be made to three judges of the Provincial Court.
The essays on Ontario recount the story of
the government s delay in introducing legislation after the Williams
Commission's report was released in 1980. A Bill has not yet been introduced in
the Ontario Legislature. Finally, the book contains a useful bibliography of a
number of important publications concerning the subject matter of public
In summary, the book is easily readable and
provides interesting information concerning selected aspects of the federal
access and privacy legislation as well as a more detailed analysis of the.
relevant existing provincial legislation.
David Johansen, Library of Parliament, Ottawa