Among Parliamentary Press Gallery journalists (and many others), the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is notorious for being one of the worst — if not the worst — government department when it comes to handling requests for records made under the federal Access to Information Act. DFAIT can take forever to process requests and, even then, will fight a requester tooth-and-nail to withhold information.
Case in point:
In late 2008, I had the following request which, I might add, is a relatively routine one for many reporters following a cabinet shuffle, and which asks for easily retrievable records:
“Please provide an electronic copy of the briefing books provided to Minister
Day upon his appointment as Minister of International Trade and Minister for Asia-Pacific Gateway.”
Shortly after that, I was informed that I would have to pay DFAIT $180 for “preparation fees”. This was new. I had (and continue to make) dozens of requests for records to DFAIT and many other government departments. DFAIT is the only one, to my knowledge, that wants “preparation fees”.
University of Ottawa law professor Amir Attaran said this arbitrary charging of prep fees was “illegal as stink.”
So I filed another ATI request asking for:
“Instructions, memos and manuals authored by Departmental staff for the application of fees that may be charged under the Access to Information Act and/or the administration and processing of requests made under the Acess to Information Act.”
And here’s the smoking gun memo in which DFAIT brags that is now “providing better service” by forcing requesters who don’t want to pay “prep fees” to drop their requests.