Government rolls out new Access to Information requests tools

I recently became aware of two new tools that were rolled out by the Canadian Government related to Access to Information request. One is a tool to search Completed Access to information requests and the other is a way to file Access to Information requests online

In April, I created my own tool to search completed Access to Information request but the government tool is much more robust and replaces any need for the one I created.

The tool allows you search completed Access to Information requests completed in 2012 and 2013. It searches 50 out of about 170 Institutions that are subject to Access to Information legislation, however it seems to cover the most important government departments, as well as bodies like Canada Post and the CBC. A list of institutions on the left hand side of screen allows you to filter your search to only the in institutions which you click on. And each result includes links to the contact information for the department so that you can request copies of the information provided in each competed request (it is free). It will be particularly useful when researching specific topics to get a quick sense of what requests have already been filed and easily get my hands on the documents. There is also a link on the page that allows you to download a list of the summaries of all completed Access to Information (right now just for Spring 2013).

The other tool is a way to file access requests online. Up until now Access to Information requests had to be filed and paid for through the post. But it seems that the government is trying out a system to file request online. At present you can only file online with three departments: Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Shared Services Canada, and Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS). I imagine that they are testing it out now and may phase in other department overtime, if the system works for them.

I filed a request to test it out, and found the system fairly straight forward and simple. It basically consisted of filling out a series of web forms. Mostly I was prompted to provide the same information I provide in a letter, but I also had to indicate whether I was a Canadian Citizen, Permanent resident, or business; If I was requesting on my own behalf or on behalf of someone else;  the format I wish to receive the documents in; and whether I am media, business, academia, an organization, or member of the public. The other major difference is that unlike with a letter I needed to provide ID to show I am a Canadian Citizen / Resident.

On the whole I am impressed with both these tool, they are useful, display well, and are easy to use.  I am pleasantly surprised by this effort by government to make public records more accessible.

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