Access to Delays and Evasion at CIDA

In April 2007, some 16 months ago, I submitted an Access-to-Information request to the Canadian International Development Agency asking about CIDA’s activities in Zimbabwe.

The Access to Information Act, in case anyone at CIDA is interested, gives Canadians the right to access information in records under the control of a government institution.

CIDA responded to my initial request with months of delays and the bureaucrat assigned to my file leaving the agency without, it seems, informing the woman answering the phone. By September 2007, I had narrowed my request to information about one phase of one funding project. Casting a wider net would, I was told, take even more time and result in hefty “research fees.” Incidentally, bringing a formal complaint to the office of the Information Commissioner of Canada is, I learned, a waste of time.

By this summer, I still had received nothing from CIDA. In the months since I made my first request, Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe has stolen an election, his thugs have murdered hundreds of people, and, on the home front, my daughter who wasn’t yet born when this process began, is now speaking gibberish that is as roughly intelligible as what passes for debate in Question Period.

Then, last month, I received my first batch of documents. What had taken CIDA the better part of a year to make available, consists mostly of discussions about whether to buy or rent a car, and a training manual.

Fear not, CIDA assures me. More documents are on their way: “We are currently processing many consultations with our partners, but our goal, as stated before, is to send you partial releases as documents become available, every 3 months or so.  At times you may see a 2 month period between releases, as at other times 4-5 months may elapse between releases.”

Robert Mugabe is 84. I’d say the odds of CIDA actually completing this task while he’s still alive are about even.

Earlier this year, as I prepared for a trip to Haiti, I had a similar if not nearly as frustrating experience trying to get solid information from CIDA and Foreign Affairs about Canada’s involvement in that country. When I got to Haiti and started poking around on the ground, I learned that CIDA – as well as the RCMP, several other police departments, and the Canadian Forces – appears to be doing good work, and Canada’s ambassador to Haiti, Claude Boucher, has a reputation among knowledgeable Haitians for skill and influence.

It’s possible that CIDA is operating equally well in Zimbabwe. It’s also possible that its response to a simple access request reflects a much deeper incompetence. It would be nice if Canadians, who fund the agency, could find out.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.