On Sept. 26, a large crowd gathered in Carleton’s Residence Commons to launch Right to Know Week, an annual campaign held to discuss the rights of Canadians to access government information. The event included several panels and talks from the Honourable Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board, and Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault.
“Access to information rights are key to a healthy democracy…” said Legault. “This year, Right to Know Week starts here at Carleton University.”
Legault noted the importance of the large audience gathered to hear the speakers and panels, including Commissioner of Lobbying Karen Shepherd, students, scholars, journalists, politicians and policy experts, among others.
“It is fitting that we are starting the week with a diverse group of expert speakers who will share their thoughts and experiences,” said Legault, as she went on to introduce Brison.
Right to Know Week Concentrates on Modernization
During his remarks, Brison raised need for the decades-old information act to be modernized.
“Our Access to Information Act – having been passed in 1983 and having not been meaningfully updated since – is badly out of date and out of touch with Canadians’ expectations today,’’ said Brison. “I look around this room and a lot of you weren’t born in 1983 and a lot of you have grown up in a digital age…”
Brison noted that modernizing the act will be part of a larger effort to improve the current system, saying the federal Liberals are committed to more open government, such as publishing ministers’ mandate letters and waiving all but the $5 filing fee for information requests.
“We will look forward to hearing from you in terms of your deliberations, the results of some of your discussions and recommendations that can better inform our actions as your government moving forward…” he said.
Focus on Access to Information in Journalism
Following his speech, the first of three panels was held. The topic, Access in Journalism, was moderated by Journalism Prof. Susan Harada. The panelists included Sean Michael Holman, assistant professor of Journalism at Mount Royal University, Jayme Poisson, a reporter at the Toronto Star, and Justin Ling, features editor at VICE news.
The panel discussed the ability of journalists to access government information, barriers they face in having their requests fulfilled, and public engagement on the issue.
Two more panels on policy issues and open government were held throughout the afternoon. Moderators for the panels were Prof. Robert Shepherd of the School of Public Policy and Administration, and Prof. Mary Francoli of the School of Journalism and Communication, respectively. Panelists included NDP MP Charlie Angus and Peter Barnacle, general counsel of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, in addition to many notable academics and policy experts.