The Canadian Press
January 23, 2009

Canada’s information watchdog says the public knows less than ever about what its government is doing — a stark contrast to U.S. President’s Barack Obama’s push for openness in the United States.

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Information Commissioner Robert Marleau said Thursday the grip on federal files is tightening, largely because of the Conservative government’s “communications stranglehold” on the bureaucracy.

“There’s less information being released by government than ever before. And that’s alarming.”

In Washington this week, Obama marked his first full day as president by serving notice to officials they must favour disclosure of records under the Freedom of Information Act over keeping them secret.

“The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears,” said his memo to the heads of departments and agencies.

Canada’s Access to Information Act, which has changed little in a quarter of a century, is often criticized as poorly administered, antiquated and generally neglected by the government.

It means those who plunk down $5 to request information from federal agencies face delays of several months and frequently receive little of value. Marleau’s office is so backlogged it can take a year or more for his staff to investigate complaints.

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