The Federal Court has ruled that the Canadian government can no longer charge fees for the search and processing of electronic government documents covered under access to information legislation. In a ruling last week, Justice Sean Harrington said the wording of the Access to Information Act and its regulations are “vague” and that practices under the act “have practically stood still” since the days when computers were rare in the workplace. The case centred on a request by a citizen for government procedural documents outlining the use of the Social Insurance Number records database. The court ruled against Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, which had quoted the applicant $4,180 to search for and prepare the documents.
The ruling is a small win in a much larger fight to overhaul Canada’s antiquated access laws, according to Tom Henheffer, the executive director of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. “It’s a great but very, very small step in the right direction.