Data, Economic Development, Government

Open Data – Canada’s Antiquated Information Act

You’re reading the third installment of Townfolio’s series on the state of open data today. Previously, we’ve introduced you to the concept of open data and we’ve also taken a look at how Canada’s open data policies compare to other nations.

This week’s article investigates Canada’s open data policies at the grassroots level – and if you read our previous post, you might be surprised by what follows.

The Big Data Dilemma

There are very few things more important to a data-based company (like Townfolio, for instance) than having the ability to acquire data in it’s most accurate and up-to-date form. Beyond that, it’s crucial that companies like ours are enabled to distribute data to our customers so that they can use it to service their own customers. And so it goes – data access eventually affects every one of us.

Unfortunately, this remains a sore spot for Canadian businesses and a key area of opportunity for Canada’s officials and their open data policies. The reality is, many of Canada’s laws regarding data and its distribution aren’t actually laws – rather, they exist as “unwritten laws” created through the use of discretionary power. 

Since then, the time and resources that it would take to challenge these “laws” has proven prohibitive. As such, we haven’t seen any meaningful evolution to these regulations in many years.

What Gives?

Why haven’t we seen any advancement in this area? Well, it wasn’t seen as an area of any importance until only recently (depending on who you ask!). The reality is the use of data to support innovation and research, develop new products, improve analyses and mitigate risk has grown exponentially in recent years.

Most laws regarding data and data distribution fall under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FOIP) of 1982. Yes, that’s 37 years and counting without any significant regulatory change – despite data literally changing almost every aspect of our lives during that period.

Provincial Prohibition

As it stands, each local authority (under the Local Authority Information Act) has the discretionary power to choose what data is available for public access and whether it can be used or redistributed. On top of that, each province and territory does have it’s own designated official for overseeing that region’s privacy legislation in the event of access denials. 

However, there is no one individual or body responsible for overseeing the use, reuse, and redistribution of data for commercial or non-commercial use.

But What About Last Week’s Article?

It should be said that the Canadian government has recently begun to address the importance of greater access to data. They’ve been doing a fairly good job of it, as we investigated in our previous blog post. Regarding data access, Canada developed an Open Data Directive. It defines open data as “a structured data that is machine-readable, freely shared, used and built on without restrictions”.

The following points are the most important when it comes to defining open data:

  1. It must be made available and accessible in a convenient and modifiable format.
  2. It must be reusable and redistributable and the terms must permit reuse and redistribution.
  3. It must include universal participation in which everyone can use, reuse, and redistribute without discrimination. For example: non-commercial restrictions are not allowed.

While that definition certainly sounds fair and reasonable, there’s a problem – the definition of open data isn’t even standardized within our own country. Making matters worse, each Local Authority Information Act actually supersedes the Information Act of Canada at the national level. 

What does that mean? Well, a city may have an open data portal but by accepting the city’s terms and conditions it may very well be unlawful to reuse or redistribute that data.

In Closing

Does that sound like open data to you? Or is it closer to restricted data? It definitely doesn’t match the definition provided by the national government.

While Canada certainly has strong open data policies relative to most other countries, the truth is that many of these national policies are derailed at a grassroots level by bureaucratic contradictions. 

Although our governments recognize and acknowledge the value provided by data, the real issues impacting data acquisition and redistribution have been left unaddressed for 37 years.

Is there any advantage to having well-regarded data directives at the federal level, if we prohibit them at the provincial and territorial level?

As always, if you’re interested in learning more about how Townfolio helps governments of all levels across the continent utilize data and technologies more efficiently, let’s chat. You can email me at or you can request a demo of our platform through this link.