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IJF launches FOI database that will save you a federal piggyback

Screenshot of the Investigative Journalism Foundation's Open By Default database.
Screenshot of the Investigative Journalism Foundation's Open By Default database. Investigative Journalism Foundation

The Investigative Journalism Foundation – a not-for-profit newsroom in Canada that is devoted to public interest reporting – has just launched a massive database of previously released federal access requests.

The “Open By Default” database has collected the responsive records to more than 20,000 completed federal access to information requests going back to 2011.

All together, says IJF editor-in-chief Zane Schwartz, there are more than 2.6 million pages available and searchable.

“The purpose is to strengthen democracy by giving all Canadians easy and immediate access to internal government documents. As a journalist, I believe that citizens make better judgments when governments are transparent,” he said. “We’re trying to build on the great work of projects like Secret Canada, by making all of these documents free and downloadable.”

Open By Default has been two years in the making and is the newsroom’s ninth database. The idea came from Thompson Rivers University assistant law professor Matt Malone, after the academic became frustrated navigating the federal ATI system in his own research.

“The access to information system in Canada is widely criticized for being inefficient, outdated, and overly secretive,” Mr. Malone said in an IJF article announcing the database. “One thing I really wanted to do was fix that and make sure that we are putting these records into the public domain so that journalists, researchers, businesses and citizens can have instant and unhindered access to them.”

The federal government has long published the summaries of completed access requests online, but the records themselves are not available. Previously, if you found a file you were interested in, you would have to submit what’s called a “piggyback.” (In the database of completed request summaries – which includes federal files, as well as provincial, territorial and municipal requests – you will notice there is a button at the bottom called “file a piggyback.”) The IJF database will let users skip this step.

The IJF already offers searchable data on topics such as charity tax returns, political donations and lobbyist registrations.

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