The Spirit of the Access to Information Act

The ‘Spirit of the Act’ can be found in the interpretation and decision making process as well as the Purpose of the Access to Information Act (ATIA), which is “to extend the law of Canada to provide a right of access according to the principles that government information should be available to the public and that necessary exceptions to the right of access be limited and specific”. Keeping sight of the Purpose of the Act while making decisions on whether or not to release information might be one way to use the ‘Spirit of the Act’.

Let me explain; when the head of a government institution has the discretion and chooses to use it to disclose some or all of a responsive record, that person must first determine that there is no, or very little, possibility that injury will be a result from disclosure, and that the public interest outweighs any injury which could result from the disclosure.

The head must also understand Parliament’s intentions for the incorporation of Subsection 19 (1) of the ATIA, “to ensure that the principles of both statues would come into play in the decision whether to release personal information”.

In my opinion, amendments to the ATIA over the years, by way of adding more mandatory exemptions and eliminating discretionary exemptions takes away from the Spirit of the Act. The amendments have done this by leaving less room for interpretation of the Purpose of the Act by the responding organizational head, who is directed to ensure that the withholding of information is limited and specific, rather than unnecessarily broad.


Source: EXIAPP8175, Module 4, Spring 2018, Page 6 of 35

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