4. Engaging with stakeholders
The Commissioner uses a variety of venues to work with partners and interested parties to bolster the case for access to government information—both in Canada and abroad. At home, the Commissioner engages with key players at the federal level, such as the Treasury Board Secretariat, as the system administrator, on policy issues and common tools, and senior institutional officials to ensure maximum compliance with the Act. She also consults with her provincial and territorial counterparts and international colleagues on both local and global issues.
Among the fruits of this engagement are that the Commissioner can offer to Parliamentarians, upon request, her perspective on national and international developments in the world of access to information, with the goal of contributing to the development of a leading access regime in Canada. Parliament, in turn, has provided useful follow-up on our work, particularly the report cards (see Chapter 2), through the House of Commons Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI).
International Conference of Information Commissioners
In October 2011, we hosted the 7th International Conference of Information Commissioners, in collaboration with the Canadian Bar Association. This event, held for the first time in Canada, brought together more than 250 participants, including 36 international, provincial and territorial information commissioners, representatives from the Treasury Board Secretariat and Library and Archives Canada, along with academics, journalists and members of civil society groups.
Under the theme Access to Information: A Pillar of Democracy, the conference featured wide-ranging presentations on implementing access to information laws and the broader topic of freedom of information. In addition, information commissioners shared their experiences and discussed new challenges stemming from the rapidly evolving open government movement. A summary of the panel discussions can be found on our website.
The conference culminated in the release of a joint resolution signed by information commissioners from 23 countries that calls on governments to enshrine the right to information in national laws and to put in place effective appeal mechanisms.
Grace-Pépin Access to Information Award
During the conference, we, along with our provincial and territorial colleagues, presented the inaugural Grace-Pépin Access to Information Award to the University of Alberta’s Information Access and Protection of Privacy Certificate Program.
The award, created in memory of former federal Information Commissioner John Grace (1927–2009) and Marcel Pépin (1941–1999), president and founder of the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec, officially recognizes outstanding contributions by an individual, group or organization to promoting and supporting transparency, accountability and the public’s right to access public sector information.
The next award will be handed out during Right to Know Week in September 2012. For more information on the Award, please visit the Right to Know website.
Right to Know
We joined countries around the world in celebrating Right to Know Day on September 28, 2011. Provincial and territorial information and privacy ombudsman and commissioner offices coordinated efforts once again to mark Right to Know Week with numerous activities and festivities across Canada. (See the Right to Know website for information on the Right to Know movement in Canada.)
The Commissioner and senior officials attended 22 events during 2011–2012 as keynote speakers or panellists. Among those events were the 2011 Access and Privacy Conference in Edmonton, the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in Toronto, an orientation session for Senators in Ottawa, and a panel hosted by the Quebec National Assembly.
In July 2011, at the invitation of Canada’s High Commissioner to Nigeria and coordinated by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, the Information Commissioner met with high ranking government officials and representatives of civil society groups in that country to provide advice on implementing the country’s newly proclaimed Freedom of Information Act.
Representatives from Canada attended, at Mexico’s invitation, that country’s National Transparency Week in September 2011. The Commissioner led a delegation of Canadian experts in the fields of freedom of information and open government, and made several keynote addresses.
In March 2012, the Commissioner participated in a conference in Patna, India, on the right to information, organized by the government of the state of Bihar and sponsored by the World Bank. The conference focused on Bihar’s experience implementing freedom of information in a poor state with low rates of literacy.
We often host officials from foreign governments in order to share experiences in developing, implementing and maintaining access to information systems. In 2011, we welcomed representatives from Brazil, China, Indonesia and Mexico.
We have posted speaking notes and presentations from these events on our website.
In 2011–2012, we expanded dialogue with stakeholders by taking advantage of social media. We launched our Twitter account at the end of September 2011 (@OIC_CI_Canada). Twitter allows us to interact with the public and stakeholders in real time and be aware of trends and issues of importance related to access to information and open government across the world. With 266 followers on Twitter (and 66 on Facebook, which we joined in August 2010) we hope to continue reaching out and attracting more interest in the coming year.
Open Government Partnership
The Secretary of State of the United States and the Foreign Minister of Brazil launched the international Open Government Partnership in Washington on July 12, 2011. The Information Commissioner was invited to participate in a forum on promoting transparency held in conjunction with the launch.
In February 2012, the Commissioner, on behalf of the provincial and territorial information commissioners, sent a letter to the President of the Treasury Board containing recommendations related to the government’s action plan for its work as a member of the Open Government Partnership. Among these was the key recommendation to update the Access to Information Act to reflect the modern state of government and access to information. We shared that letter with the members of the international network of information commissioners.
The government tabled its action plan in April 2012. It sets out commitments the government will meet over three years, under three headings: open information, open data and open dialogue.
The Commissioner made five appearances before parliamentary committees in 2011–2012.
Of particular note was the Commissioner’s appearance in November 2011 in front of the ETHI committee to discuss her ongoing dispute and resulting court actions with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. As part of her testimony, the Commissioner presented the results of a comparison of the provisions in other jurisdictions’ laws on public broadcasters, and presented alternative wording for section 68.1 of the Access to Information Act. On March 8, 2012, ETHI tabled its report on this matter, recommending that the government amend this provision based on the expert testimony and, notably, our international comparison. The government tabled its response on May 7, 2012, agreeing to study the committee’s recommendations, taking the various international models into account.
On February 16, 2012, the Commissioner had the opportunity to speak about our work and access to information more generally when she gave testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce. Her appearance was part of the committee’s review of the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act. She spoke of her concerns about the exemption in this law for certain information held by the federal agency that tracks financial intelligence. The Commissioner followed up her oral testimony with a detailed written submission on April 24, 2012.
The Commissioner’s other two appearances before ETHI were about her 2010–2011 annual report (September 22, 2011) and about the 2012–2013 Main Estimates and the limited resources we have to carry out our mandate (March 27, 2012). Finally, the Commissioner appeared before the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on November 22, 2011, on the Bill to abolish the federal gun registry.
The Commissioner tabled her annual report to Parliament on our administration of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act on June 22, 2011.
Throughout the year, Parliament considered a number of government and private members’ bills that touch on access to information or propose amendments to the Access to Information Act. Our website contains a complete list of these bills, including those that received Royal Assent and those that are still before Parliament.