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In any working relationship, broken trust is hard to repair.

Law Times reports that lawyers who work with indigenous groups say provisions in federal Bill C-58 would force access requesters to have specifics in terms of subject matter, time frames and types of records and will have a detrimental impact on these groups’ ability to do needed research for land claims.

“One can imagine the sheer quantity of documents that might relate to a historic land claim or a specific claim,” says Lanise Hayes, an Ottawa lawyer. “At times, Canada has responded to access requests by throwing in massive amounts of questionable documents, leaving it for the indigenous applicant to swim through and find the relevant information.”

Others echo these concerns. It was reported that Federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault, a lawyer, also expressed her dismay when she recently told a House of Commons committee that, due to the proposed changes, it “would be a lot more difficult for First Nations to access the information that they need.”

This is a federal government that has talked extensively about its efforts to achieve reconciliation with indigenous groups. Erecting bureaucratic barriers and keeping information siloed, as critics charge would occur under the new system, is troubling. (As an important note, access-to-information legislation is used by a wide variety of people and corporations in order to delve into the federal government’s activities.)

This year’s News Media Canada’s Freedom of Information audit said that “a quarter of requests sent to federal government departments, agencies and crown corporations were answered within the normal 30-day time limit.”

For the federal government: Listen to your critics and drill down to specifics on how the new legislation will impact those who are using it.

Lawyers and other information watchdogs: Keep up the very admirable work of pointing out these systemic flaws.

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