Your ticket to searching
requests made under
Canada’s Access to
Digging Deeper, A Canadian Reporter’s Research Guide, Edition, Oxford University Press. Order it at Amazon.ca.
A comprehensive guide to
investigative journalism, research techniques,
Digging Deeper also contains a chapter on
using access-to-information and freedom-of-information.
Your Right To Know:How to Use the Law to Get Government Secrets
A practical guide that walks you through the process filing successful access to information requests.
Brokering Access: Power, Politics, and Freedom of Information Process in Canada
An academic probe into the strengths and weaknesses of Canada’s Access To Information Law.
McKie, CBC News
288-6523 (C) 290-7380
David McKie is an author (see two of his co-authored books at the top of this page), part-time, journalism instructor, and award-winning producer in CBC New’s Parliamentary Bureau.
Search a database of requests
submitted under Canada’s Access to Information
This 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 from the early nineties to August 2008,
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.
Once the search engine is fixed, you’ll be able to use it so search for specific summaries pasted below in the form of monthly text files. For now, you can click each each link and search within the document, using control-F on your keyboard, or an alternative shortcut for Mac users.
If you experience difficulties, please let me know.
Where does this
data come from? [Top]
The information in this database was entered by
federal institutions into the now-defunct Coordination of
Access to Information Requests System (CAIRS), a central registry that was maintained by the Department of Public Works and Government Services, now Public Service and Procurement Canada.
The monthly reports from the CAIRS database were obtained from
Treasury Board Secretariat, another agency of the
Canadian government, using Access to Information Act
How to use this
Enter 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
When you’ve located a relevant request, note the
institutional code and the file number. Once you’ve identified a request, you can contact the institution in question about receiving the records, probably by filing an informal request. Given that the records are old, it’s best to contact the department’s access-to-information officials, determine the best course of action.
Limitations of the database
The former Conservative government under Stephen Harper killed CAIRS. So this database only goes to Oct. 2008.
The federal Information Commissioner’s Office attempted
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.
Some 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.
You can use this search engine using the same search operators for regular queries. For more guidance, please check out this GoogleGuide.
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.
2003: On 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]
| January 2007
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 news[Top]
Oct. 13, 2010
The information commissioner gives many federal
government departments a failing grade.
Access to Information Act turns 30 amid calls for reform (CBC News)
Full review of Access to Information law 2 years away, Scott Brison says
Government institutions don’t respect access to information laws (The Hill Timesonline)
Government’s online information access plan falls short
Deadline looms for federal instiutions to post access to information summaries online
Interim Directive on the Administration of the Access to Information Act
Liberals end access to information fees, more reforms coming
Liberals’ slow movement on Access to Information reform concerns commissioner
New access law is needed for a digital age: Editorial-An all-party Commons committee is on the right track with a series of overdue reforms to fix the broken Access to Information Act
Rubin: Open government promise rings hollow
Watchdog recommends blanket ban on personal emails for government business
Why are the Liberals stalling on their promise to reform access to information?