Coronavirus: Freedom of information requests sidelined as governments focus on COVID-19

Coronavirus outbreak: Canada now stands at 3409 total cases, 35 total deaths
Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that as of Thursday morning, there are 3409 active vases of COVID-19 in Canada, with 35 total deaths. Tam said over 158,000 people in Canada have been tested for the virus.

As government agencies across Canada focus strained resources on protecting people from COVID-19, efforts to respond to freedom-of-information requests from the public are slowing or even stopping altogether.

The federal government and all provinces and territories have laws that allow people to request access to records — from briefing notes to expense reports — held by ministries and other public bodies.

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READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

At least three large federal departments recently issued notices advising requesters their applications for information would be placed on hold due to COVID-19, though one soon backpedalled on the move.

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Many public servants are working from home, making it difficult to retrieve and process records.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: How is Canada planning to enforce mandatory self-isolation?

The federal ombudsman for requesters is asking institutions to take all reasonable measures to limit the effect on individuals’ right of access to information, and to advise people of the reduced capacity to process requests.

The office of Ontario’s information commissioner says the expectation to comply with the province’s access law remains in effect, but adds it understands that many organizations will be unable to meet the 30-day response requirement.

Coronavirus outbreak: Federal ministers outline process for new mandatory quarantine practices
Coronavirus outbreak: Federal ministers outline process for new mandatory quarantine practices