Coordination of Access to Information Requests System

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The Coordination of Access to Information Requests System, also known as CAIRS, was a database of freedom of information requests made to the federal government of Canada under the Access to Information Act. It was operated by the Department of Public Works and Government Services. It was created in 1989 to internally track requests,[1] and eventually allowed for access to previously filed requests, previously released documents, and then current requests.[2] By 2008, millions of documents are available through CAIRS.[3] In 2001, Public Works spent C$166,000 upgrading the system.[1]

Effective April 1, 2008, the Treasury Board has stated that "the requirement to update CAIRS is no longer in effect".[1] Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper explained this decision as a result of CAIRS being "deemed expensive, [and] deemed to slow down the access to information."[2] Treasury Board President Vic Toews described the system as a tool used to inhibit freedom of information:

"If anyone made a request that was considered sensitive, the request was shipped to the appropriate Liberal minister. At that point the Liberal minister would manage, control or delay the request. That was the purpose of the system. That is a pretty convenient system the Liberals had, but it is not one that the government will continue with."[4]

In response, Liberal Leader of the Opposition Stéphane Dion described Harper's government as "the most secretive government in the history of our country."[2]

While the government cited Alastair Roberts, a Syracuse University political scientist, as a critic of CAIRS,[1] Roberts publicly commented that he was not in favour of shutting down the system, saying "They really don't care what I think about CAIRS or any other aspect of ATI [access to information]...[i]f they did they would have taken my advice about CAIRS a few years ago when I said they ought to switch on the capacity to make the entire thing publicly accessible."[3]


  1. ^ a b c d "Tories kill access to information database". CBC News Online. 2008-05-02. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  2. ^ a b c "Harper defends database shutdown". Globe and Mail. 2008-05-05. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  3. ^ a b "Expert cited by PM questions how Tories tracking info now that registry dead". Canadian Press. 2008-05-06. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 
  4. ^ McParland, Kelly (2008-05-06). "CAIRS: The scandalous treatment of an agency no one ever heard of". National Post. Retrieved 2008-05-10. 

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