GATINEAU, QC, June 8, 2017 /CNW/ - Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault tabled her 2016–2017 Annual Report in Parliament today.
The year began on a positive note for access to information and transparency with many constructive advancements and a promise by the government to reform the Access to Information Act. As the year drew to a close, Commissioner Legault says there is "a shadow of disinterest on behalf of the government."
Several investigations illustrate longstanding deficiencies with the Act, which include the deletion of emails subject to a request, difficulties accessing documents in a ministers' office, failure to document decisions, and lengthy delays to obtain information.
Institutional performance in relation to compliance with the Act is showing signs of decline.
Much-needed reform is necessary to solve ongoing problems across the access system.
Commissioner Legault says "our investigations highlight that the Act continues to be used as a shield against transparency and is failing to meet its policy objective to foster accountability and trust in our government. The Act urgently needs to be updated to ensure that Canadians' access rights are respected. A lot of work needs to be done before this government delivers on its transparency promises."
The report is available on the OIC website.
The Information Commissioner's 2016−2017 annual report: Highlights
Investigations in 2016–2017 highlight the need to amend the Access to Information Act to resolve long-standing deficiencies. The Act is outdated and continues to be used as a shield against transparency.
Notable investigations include the deletion of emails subject to an access request referring to the provincial and federal Liberal party; problems obtaining records in ministers' offices; a failure to document decisions related to the tasering death of Robert Dziekanski; difficulties obtaining information regarding the governments' interactions with SNC-Lavalin; and lengthy delays to access information related to an Indian Residential School.
2. Performance of institutions
Institutional performance in relation to compliance with the Act is showing signs of decline. Most notable is the performance decline of a number of leading institutions that possess valuable information for Canadians.
In terms of timeliness, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canada Revenue Agency, Correctional Services of Canada and Global Affairs Canada received F grades, and National Defence and Health Canada are on Red Alert.
Regarding the percentage of completed requests where records were fully disclosed, more commonly known as the disclosure rate, only 24 percent of requests were disclosed in full, which is a three percent decrease from the previous year.
3. Court proceedings
Significant activity on the legal front for 2016–2017 include a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada regarding whether Alberta's Information and Privacy Commissioner can review records subject to solicitor-client privilege, and the implications of that decision at the federal level; an intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada where an archive that documents the tragic legacy of the Indian Residential Schools is at risk of being inaccessible under the Access to Information, and deleted from Canada's historical record; and two proceedings that raise questions of when institutions may raise new exemptions to prevent disclosure of information, impacting requesters' right to timely access.
4. International conference: Transparency for the 21st century
The OIC hosted the Transparency for the 21st Century Conference in March 2017. This conference brought together Canadian and international experts and advocates across various fields related to government transparency.
5. Oversight and national security: Bill C-22
The Commissioner appeared before a House of Commons Committee as part of its study of Bill C-22, which proposes to create a joint national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, mandated with overseeing national security and intelligence matters. During her appearance, the Commissioner flagged serious concerns with the Bill related to the Committee's ability to obtain information that would undermine the Committee's oversight function. She also raised issues regarding the application of the Access to Information Act to the Secretariat supporting the Committee. The Commissioner provided solutions for the Bill (page 50).
6. Access to Information Act reform: A broken promise?
The government promised to introduce in early 2017 a first phase reform of the Access to Information Act that would bring forward significant improvements to the Act. However, it has now delayed indefinitely that reform, citing the need to "get it right". One is now left wondering whether that promise is a broken one. ("Access to Information Act reform: A broken promise?")
7. Increased budget
In 2016–2017, the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) received temporary funding for one year. Putting this funding into maximum operation required a tremendous effort by the OIC. As a result, the OIC resolved an unprecedented number of complaints – 2,245 – a 75 percent increase over 2015–2016.
SOURCE Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada
For further information: Natalie Bartlett, Manager, Communications and Media Relations, Office of the Information Commissioner, Tel.: 819-994-1068, Email: Natalie.Bartlett@ci-oic.gc.ca