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Information access okay here, better in Mexico: officials

At a public lecture in Victoria today, information and privacy officials from British Columbia and Ottawa praised the access to information policies used in Mexico.

“They're quite advanced,” said Suzanne Legault, an assistant information commissioner with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, who said she'd read the Mexican legislation in Spanish. “They're very, very advanced in terms of FOI.”

While Canadian systems require requests made in hard-copy and often generate many pages of photocopies for review before the documents are released, she said, the Mexican system is entirely web based.

“If you want to make an access request to a Mexican institution you do it by e-mail,” she said. “The institution replies in 60 percent of the cases with electronic information and if you're not happy you click on your other button and the complaint goes directly to the information commissioner.”

The B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner, David Loukidelis, said Mexico also leads by publishing information proactively, making it available before anyone asks for it. “In the spirit of timely openness and access, proactive publication of general information . . . could go a long way to solving some of the challenges that we're seeing and arguably would be cheaper.

“Mexico is a great example of this, they've got a really robust system of proactive disclosure there.”

Legault said the 25-year-old Canadian legislation is pretty good, but there is a need to modernize how requests are processed so they can be answered more quickly. Loukidelis said the fundamentals are good in B.C. as well, though many public bodies are under-staffed and struggle to answer requests within the legislated 30-day limit.

In a knowledge-based global economy, Legault said, information must flow freely. “We can't afford to be less knowledgeable than other people.”

So, with federal politicians on the campaign trail, how many will commit to bringing access to information in Canada up to Mexican standards?

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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