Data Access in Canada: CivicAccess.ca
Tracey P. Lauriault, Hugh McGuire
There is a global movement to liberate government-“owned” data sets, such as census data, environmental data, and data generated by government-funded research projects. This open data movement aims to make these datasets available, at no cost, to citizens, citizen groups, non-governmental-organizations (NGOs) and businesses. The arguments are many: such data spurs economic activity, helps citizens make better decisions, and helps us understand better who we are and where we are going as a country. Further, these data were collected using tax dollars, yet the government holds a monopoly which makes data available only to those able to pay the high access fees, while some data is not made available at all.
The open data movement is lagging in Canada as demonstrated by exorbitant fees for such basics as the data set of postal codes correlated to electoral districts. This data could be used for any number of civic engagement projects, but it costs thousands of dollars due to Statistics Canada’s policies of cost recovery.
This article aims to bring these issues to a wider public. The long-term vision is a country in which citizens, specialists, professionals, academics, community groups and even businesses can work together, developing innovative information access and visualization tools, better decision-making models, and more tools responsive to the needs of the citizens. Liberating data will spur grassroots research on important social, economic, political and technical areas, currently hampered by lack of access to and high cost of civic data. Further, we want to link the debate about data to questions of government transparency and accountability, which pivot on access to accurate, reliable, and timely data.
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