Government docs on porn regulator will take six years to access

Slow access to porn docs

A New Democrat MP's request for documents related to a new regulator that will handle child pornography and exploitive material could take over half a decade for the government to process.

In a letter responding to NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus's access-to-information request, the Justice Department said it will take more than six years to provide correspondence and briefings from a three-month period between December and March related to the regulator.

The Liberal government announced in April it would introduce legislation to create a regulator that will ensure online platforms remove harmful content, including depictions of children and intimate images that are shared without consent.

Conservative and New Democrat MPs have questioned why a regulatory authority is needed to crack down on exploitive content when the Criminal Code already bars child pornography and the knowing distribution of illicit images.

Angus said the lack of details or timelines around the regulator prompted his request. He called the 75-month waiting period "ridiculous."

Civil servants in charge of information access in each department handle requests for documents, rather than elected politicians.

"But we've seen many times the political pressures on certain key files to slow down the release of those documents," Angus said in an interview.

The Justice Department said that time frames for processing requests are based on the estimated number of records and that interim release of documents is possible in high-volume cases.

"This complex work is undertaken by departmental officials in a non-partisan manner that respects access to information laws and policies," department spokesman Ian McLeod said in an email.

He noted requesters have the right to file a complaint with the information commissioner, which Angus has warned he will do.

James L. Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, said he was "staggered by this response" of a six-year timeline.

"It’s outrageous. It really shows how badly broken our access to information system is in Canada.”

Bureaucrats overseeing access to information and privacy (ATIP) are typically helpful, Turk said.

“Other times the ATIP officers act as if they’re guardians of Fort Knox."

The complaint process can take months due to lack of proper funding, he said, adding that multiple governments have failed to overhaul ATIP laws and achieve the transparency essential to a liberal democracy.

Amendments to the Access to Information Act by the Liberal government in 2019 gave the information commissioner new powers to order the release of documents and view files that had previously been beyond the watchdog's scope. Bill C-58 marked the first major update to the legislation since it came into force in 1983.

"But the changes were mostly cosmetic," Turk said, arguing that exemptions can be interpreted too broadly under the act.

The new regime does not compel the government to document its affairs.

"So if it wants to avoid being transparent, it doesn’t put its decisions in writing,” Turk said.

The Treasury Board launched a review of the legislation in June 2020, with a focus on boosting "proactive publication" and reducing delays, said spokeswoman Geneviève Sicard.

"The Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that access to information supports the openness, transparency and accountability of Canadian democratic institutions," she said in an email.

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