Canadian Politics

A11(d) - Canadian Political Science and Access to Information Mechanisms

Date: Jun 13 | Time: 10:15am to 11:45am | Location:

Chair/Président/Présidente : Caroline Dunton (University of Ottawa)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Caroline Dunton (University of Ottawa)

This panel examines how access to information mechanisms can contribute to the study of government institutions in Canada. Social scientists and socio-legal scholars have already established a significant body of work concerning the value of investigating these mechanisms, yet there is a noticeable gap within Canadian political science. The discussion will emphasize how political scientists can leverage access-to-information mechanisms to gain deeper insights into the operations and structures of the Canadian government.

Exploring the extraterritorial dimensions of Canada’s anti-smuggling policy through access to information requests: Corey Robinson (University of Glasgow)
Abstract: This paper employs access to information requests with Canadian federal agencies to gain insight into the extraterritorial dimensions of Canada’s anti-smuggling policy, which are often hidden from public scrutiny. Examining the Strengthening the Transregional Action and Responses Against the Smuggling of Migrants (STARSOM), funded by the Government of Canada and developed and delivered by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, this two-year (2021-2023) project aims to counter migrant smuggling routes in South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, destined for North America. Using critical discourse analysis of access to information requests, this paper examines the ‘live archive’ (Walby and Larsen 2011) of anti-smuggling discourse, in order to gain a deeper understanding of how governmental actors frame and rationalise extraterritorial efforts to combat migrant smuggling, which often ensnare asylum-seekers in the indiscriminate crossfire of pre-emptive migration controls. The analysis of the live archive of anti-smuggling discourse contributes to the expanding scholarship on secrecy and methods in critical security studies aimed at opening up the black box of migration control while troubling conventional binaries of transparency and opacity.

Using ATIPs to Study Government: Liam Midzain-Gobin (Brock University)
Abstract: To study government decision-making, access to government records can provide critical access to information. While interviews offer insight into the thinking of important officials, they can also be restrictive: officials may not desire – or be in a position– to speak with researchers, memories are almost never perfect, or, it may indeed be difficult to determine who exactly should be spoken to. Documents, while also imperfect, nevertheless can fill in gaps left by interviews. They can also be useful in developing interview questionnaires and participant lists, and confirming information relayed by participants. Government records, however, are not always easily accessible. Though the federal and provincial governments have pledged to support open data initiatives, this can oftentimes mean that datasets are made publicly available while records on policy development are not. Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) requests are one solution to gathering relevant documents. ATIPs are not necessarily and straightforward solution, though: governments across Canada regularly miss legislated deadlines for delivering the information, or refuse requests outright. Researchers also may not be clear on what they are entitled to request, how to make the request, and recourse available to them. As such, this methodological paper offers advice on using ATIPs to capture government decision-making. Using the author’s experiences with using ATIPs on one project into the Indigenous Peoples Survey as a case study, the paper provides an overview of the requests made, the available avenues and barriers faced, and how to triangulate between multiple departments to collect documents.

Access to Information Requests and The Study of Asylum Policy and Politics: Sule Tomkinson (Université Laval)
Abstract: How do liberal democracies respond to large-scale and irregular arrivals of people seeking asylum? This has been an important concern over the past few decades, gaining even more prominence following what is referred to as the European refugee or migrant “crisis”. In this paper, I argue that analyzing internal government records released under access to information legislation can provide new and unique insights into answering this question. While refugee law scholars have examined ATI requests to expose disparities in asylum recognition rates, there is limited research that uses these requests to examine asylum policy and politics. To address this gap, I conducted a content analysis ATI records received from departments and agencies involved in the governance of irregular border crossers in Canada between 2017 and 2020, namely Public Safety Canada, Canada Border Services Agency, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship, and Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. My analysis highlights the methods employed by policy officials to manage both asylum seekers and officials, including labeling and deterring asylum seekers, as well as intensifying the management and monitoring of the asylum decision-making process. With its attention to the everyday functioning of public organizations during a “crisis” situation, this paper offers a critical examination of how liberal democracies grapple with the complexities and dilemmas posed by large-scale displacement.