Deeper -- A Canadian Reporter's Research
Guide, from Oxford University Press.
Order it now at Amazon.ca.
A comprehensive guide to
investigative journalism, research techniques,
Deeper also contains a chapter on
using access-to-information and freedom-of-information
laws, as well as an introduction to computer-assisted
reporting. David McKie is one of
Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Comprehensive
Primer is a valuable book for anyone who
wants to improve their research capabilities
on the Internet, learn how to use a spreadsheet
or database manager to crunch numbers that
can lead to stories, or learn many other
advanced research techniques.
You can order it online at: Amazon.ca
Brokering Access: Power, Politics, and
Freedom of Information Process in Canada
McKie, CBC Investigative Unit
288-6523 (C) 290-7380
About the author of this page. David McKie
is an award-winning journalist who is a member
of the CBC's investigative unit. David uses access
to information for many of his stories, including
a series on adverse drug reactions and their affects
on children (http://www.cbc.ca/news/adr/
) and seniors (http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/seniorsdrugs/.
He teaches computer assisted reporting and research
techniques at Carleton University's school of
journalism. You'll find his research techniques
syllabus at: http://http-server.carleton.ca/~dmckie/
David also trains journalists within the CBC to
use the federal Access to Information Law and
the provincial freedom of information laws.
Please read on for further information about
the page the service it provides to journalists
Search a database of requests
submitted under Canada's Access to Information
page allows you to search a database of requests
for information filed with departments and
agencies of the Canadian government under Canada's
Access to Information Act You can use this
database to identify requests that relate to your
own research interests. Next, you can contact
departments and agencies to obtain records already
made public in response to those requests.
use the database, follow the instructions provided
below. If you experience difficulties, please
Where does this
data come from? [Top]
information in this database was entered by
federal institutions into the Coordination of
Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS), a
software program maintained by the Department of
Public Works and Government Services.
reports from the CAIRS database are obtained from
Treasury Board Secretariat, another agency of the
Canadian government, by Access to Information Act
How to use this
keywords relating to your research into the search
engine (below). The search engine will retrieve
pages that contain your keywords. Each page
consists of a monthly report generated by the
CAIRS database. Click on each retrieved page and
repeat your search using your browser's search
feature. Some monthly reports are large and load
you've located a relevant request, note the
institutional code and the file number. Use the table
of institutional codes at the back of this
document to identify the institution that
received the request.
this directory of departmental
ATIA coordinators to find contact information
for that institution.
the coordinator's office to ask whether records
have been released in response to that request. If
so, make a written request for a copy of "all
records reviewed" for that earlier request. (The
wording is important: this clarifies your right to
appeal with regard to the use of exemptions or
exclusions.) You will be asked to pay a five
dollar application fee, and possibly a charge for
photocopying the records.
Limitations of the database
The Harper government no longer maintains a CAIRS
system. So this database only goes to Oct. 2008.
The Information Commissioner's Office is attempting
to either convince the government to revise the
system, or devise another method of making this
kind of information more accessible. Given the
limitations of this database, it is still a valuable
resource for records dating back several years.
large departments did not enter all requests which
they have received into CAIRS. Consequently you
should not assume that this is a comprehensive
list of federal ATIA requests. And when CAIRS
was in operation, several government institutions,
including Crown corporations such as the CBC,
were exempt from the Access to Information Law.
News about this
2001: The Canadian government releases documents
that explain the public access features of
its new CAIRSWeb software. The public access features
have not been activated.
May 1, 2003, Privacy Commissioner George Radwanski
provided a letter summarizing his investigation
regarding the distribution of personal information
through the CAIRS database. His
letter can be downloaded here.
December 16, 2003: Treasury Board
Secretariat issues an information
notice to government departments to clarify
their obligations under the Official Languages Act
with respect to ATIA requests entered into the
July 30, 2004: Treasury Board
Secretariat stops issuing monthly CAIRS reports as
searchable text files. A complaint has been made
to the Information Commissioner of Canada.
August 25, 2004: On August 23, Treasury
Board Secretariat reversed its July 30 decision
and resumed providing CAIRS data in usable
October 6, 2004: The Information Commissioner
rules that Treasury Board Secretariat should
provide direct public access to the CAIRS database.
Treasury Board Secretariat refuses to comply
with the decision. Read
the excerpt from the Commissioner's Annual Report.
October 31, 2004. Research note on Treasury
Board Secretariat survey of federal institutions'
views of the Coordination of Access to Requests
System. Results show that compliance with
CAIRS requirements is spotty; few institutions
use CAIRS' search functions frequently; only
half of major institutions regard CAIRS as a
"necessary tool" for their organization.
May 2, 2008. Tories
decide to kill CAIRS database
monthly reports directly [Top]
Amberlight Monitor [Top]
ATIA requests submitted by journalists and
Members of Parliament are usually tagged by
federal agencies for special attention, which
often causes added delay in the processing of
requests. (To learn more, read
this paper, "Spin Control and
Freedom of Information.") In some agencies,
these requests are said to be "amberlighted." The
following reports identify media and parliamentary
requests logged in CAIRS each month.
ACCESS in the
Oct. 13, 2010
The information commissioner gives many federal
government departments a failing grade.
of information in the United Kingdom
A Supreme Court of Canada decision pours cold
water on the solicitor-client privilege exemption.
Read about the decision in the Law
On Sept. 23, 2006, the Canadian Newspaper
Association once again concluded that governments
across the country have a long way to go to
improve open access to material that should be a
matter of public record. For more news about the
audit, please visit the CNA's website.
The Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia has
launched its website: http://www.nsrighttoknow.ca/
Darcy-Anne Wintonyk's master's project on Transport
Canada and the effect that the 2001 terrorist
attacks on the United States had on the department's
responses to journalists filing freedom-of-information
requests caused quite a stir. In the Spring 2006
edition of Media
magazine (which also has an excellent primer
by the Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese
on how to use the Access to Information Act with
a degree of success), Darcy outlined the problems
she encountered attempting to carry out her study
in order to complete her masters of journalism
degree at the University of British Columbia's
Masters of Journalism program. You can read the
study by clicking here.
If you want to contact Darcy, you can reach her