Library and Archives Canada is promising to fulfill an Ottawa researcher’s access to information request. It just needs until 2098.
In correspondence reviewed by the Star, the federal department said it needed at minimum eight decades to review 780,000 records related to a mysterious RCMP investigation called Project Anecdote.
Researcher Michael Dagg requested the documents through the access to information system, which allows any Canadian to request government information for a $5 fee.
By law, most requests must be fulfilled within 30 days.
Library and Archives Canada initially told Dagg the department would require a deadline extension of 292,000 days — or about 800 years. But later emails, which project a delay of closer to a century, suggest that number was a typo.
“You will note the extensive list of responsive records and we have determined that the extension for volume would be … an 80-year minimum (bringing the due date to the year 2098),” Dagg was told.
“Our initial (estimate) was a 130-year extension, however, based on the classification of these records … by the 80th year most, if not all of these records could be opened without recourse to the (Access to Information) Act.”
To put that in context, the average life expectancy in Canada is 82 years. If a particularly industrious toddler were to request that information today, they would have about even odds of seeing the documents in their lifetime.
“It defeats the whole purpose of the act,” Dagg told the Star in an interview Thursday, adding he intends to complain to the federal information commissioner. An independent researcher, Dagg is investigating an old RCMP case he suspects was closed 15 years ago, though few details are publicly known.
Dino Roberge, a spokesperson for Library and Archives Canada, told the Star via email that the department “must consider the volume and format of material that must be processed and whether it must consult with other organizations on the content of the material.”
“This then determines how long it will take to process the request.”
The legislated 30-day deadline for departments to fulfill access requests has been missed with increasing frequency in recent years. In 2015-2016, only 64 per cent of federal access to information requests were completed by deadline.
Former information commissioner Suzanne Legault often highlighted the problem of delays. She warned that some institutions use extensions to compensate for high workloads or lack of resources.
A spokesperson for the information watchdog’s office, Natalie Bartlett, said they could not comment on specific cases.
“(But) delays have been the subject of thousands of complaints to the (office) since 1983,” Bartlett wrote in a statement.
“Every information commissioner since the coming into force of the act has raised this as an issue.”
Bartlett said the office has recently dealt with extensions as long as 1,110 days at the Department of National Defence, and as long as 9,840 days at another institution.