Suzanne Legault warns MPs against raising access-to-information user fees

Canada's Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault says she doesn't support increasing user fees for access to information requests, a proposal made by Conservative MPs at a Commons committee this week. Legault says her office struggles with ballooning demands and shrinking resources.

Information watchdog says budget constraints put Canadians' right to access information in jeopardy

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault says a budget shortfall in her office cannot be solved by increasing user fees for access to information requests. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault says she doesn't support increasing user fees for access to information requests, a proposal made by Conservative MPs at a Commons committee this week.  

Canada's Access to Information Act allows members of the public to request government information from various departments. There is currently a $5 fee to make a request.

Legault told CBC News that increasing the cost is "not a good idea."

"Access to information rights are really fundamental to democracy," she said. "We have to make sure that it is appropriately resourced. It is not going to be appropriately resourced through an increase in the fee structure, unless you were to be charging such an exorbitant fee that it would be impossible for people to access their rights."

During her testimony to the committee on Thursday, Legault outlined the challenges she's facing, including a 30 per cent increase in workload and a shrinking budget.

Information office struggling with demand, finances

Legault also said the number of complaints being made about withheld or delayed information is on the rise and she needs an increased budget to address this.

"We need more investigators, and it is not my office that is in a crisis, it is the fact that Canadians' right to access government information is in jeopardy, that is the real issue," Legault said. "Because my office is underfunded to such an extent that we can't investigate their complaint in a timely manner, their rights are being thwarted." 

During the Commons committee, Tory MPs proposed increasing the $5 application fee attached to requests.

"You can look at cuts or you can grow your pie," said Conservative MP Joan Crockatt.

Legault does not agree with this proposal. 

"It is for the government to decide whether they want to tell Canadians they are going to have to pay more to access government information. It really is not up to my office," she said. "The only thing I can say is that as an information commissioner, I don't think this is a good idea for Canadians' access rights."

The commissioner said a bigger fee would not help with the financial problems she faces. Money from access to information fees currently goes to general revenues, not Legault's office.

Legault is poised to release recommendations next month about how to reform the Access to Information Act, which has not been overhauled since it came into effect in 1983.


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