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Access to information in Canada and the United States : a comparative case study Anderson, Daniel R.


This paper compares access to information legislation in the United States and Canada and uses the findings of this comparison to test three theories of policymaking. In particular, the paper uses the comparison to explore the idea that the existence of access to information policies contradicts policymaking theories which stress the autonomy of the state. The paper begins with a detailed comparison of the Canadian and American legislation as it has been interpreted by the courts. This comparison finds that the two policies are very similar but three are some significant differences in the details of the two regimes and that these differences tend to make the Canadian access policy more restrictive than the American. The paper then examines whether these findings can be explained as being consistent with policy making theories which explain policy as being the result of a copying process, of interest group pressure or of institutional forces. In order to better understand the forces behind the legislation the legislative comparison is supplemented by reference to relevant policy papers and evidence from the period of the development of the two acts. The results of the analysis indicate that no one of the three theories is provides an adequate explanation of the two access policies. The legislation was a result of a combination interest group pressure and institutional forces and, in the case of the Canadian legislation, the process of copying also played a key role. The findings also indicate that explanations which stress the role of the state are not inconsistent with a policy that results in weakened state autonomy.

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