After the series of consultation called held by the CCSD and faciliated by Harvey Low (OGP Civil Society Rep) and Tracey Lauriault, callers were asked to submit ideas and to point out resources that can help CCSD learn about the many issues.
Below are the ideas shared by Mark Weiler:
The Open Government Partnership seeks to advance four broad fronts:
- Promote transparency
- Empower citizens
- Fight corruption
- Harness new tech to strengthen government
The first three items are consistent with the goals of freedom of information legislation.
It's important to note that for the overwhelming majority of people in the world, FOI laws are new. In 1965 only 0.4% of the world's population had a right to access information held by their governments; by 2010, more than 73% of the worlds 7 billion people have this right.
Legal frameworks that provide a right to access information equip us with an important tool for framing discussions about the goals of the Open Government Partnership. In discussions, we can either ignore access laws and use our limited resources to influence government officials to publish information or we can recognize that Parliament has already granted us permission to access the information. Recognizing our access rights is not to suggest ending conversations government officials, but rather to ensure that our discussion remain focused on important issues (rather than on the now trivial issue of whether or not we can access the info).
What is the status of Canada's Access to Information Act? In the fall of 2011, the Centre for Law & Democracy and Access Info published results of an internal survey of freedom of information laws.
According to the posting (as of March 7, 2012), Canada's Access to Information Act is ranked 40th out of 89 countries. If Canada's Access to Information is to work for more than a privileged few, it needs to be improved.
I would advise advancing the recommendations put forward by the Office of the Information Commissioner or Canada on behalf of Territorial and Provincial Information Commissioners:
"Letter on open government for the President of the Treasury Board January 20, 2012"
We would also be served by looking to other countries for best practices (e.g., Mexico, FOI law passed 2002; the United Kingdom, FOI law passed 2000).
Finally, if Canada is to advance the goals of transparency, citizen empowerment, and fighting corruption then discussions about proactive publishing government data should be focused on material that is most likely to achieves those goals.
Data sets about street lights or bus locations, while potentially meaningful, do not seem aligned with the overarching goals of the OGP. Information that could help achieve the goals might be: government contracts, issue notes prepared by senior minister officials for Minister, and initial briefing materials prepared for Ministers. These materials (which are routinely ordered through FOI laws) would assist people in participating in their governance, whether through discussions with their elected officials, or with government officials directly.
Kind regards, Mark Weiler, PhD