The thousand day access request: long delays must be justified, judge rules

By on March 6, 2015


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OTTAWA — The Federal Court of Appeal has sent a stern message to government departments: you can’t just make up any old deadline for responding to requests under the Access to Information Act.

The case involved the Department of National Defence, which in 2011 told someone seeking records on the sale of military assets that it would take a staggering 1,100 days –more than three years — to meet the request.

The information commissioner wound up taking the department to Federal Court for a review of the time extension, and the documents were delivered a month before the hearing in 2013.

The Federal Court judge eventually ruled that time extensions, which are permitted under the Access to Information Act, should not be subject to review, but the appeal court disagreed.

Justice Marc Noel said timely access to documents is a central part of the right of access, and that viewing all time extensions as permissible is tantamount to not having any limits at all.

Noel said government institutions must make serious efforts to figure out how long it will honestly take to produce records, and that such calculations have to be rigorous and logical.