Message from the Commissioner
Access to government-held information is critical to the functioning of our democratic institutions. It supports accountability and transparency but also civic engagement and empowerment. More and more Canadians are interested in knowing what the government is doing and making requests for that information.
The Access to Information Act is the legal framework that confirms a quasi-constitutional right of citizens to access government information and establishes an objective and non-partisan process for obtaining that information.
The integrity and neutrality of the access system depends on strong leadership from the top. Ministers and senior managers must ensure their employees know their responsibilities with regard to access to information, and the limitations on their roles. Political and institutional leaders must ensure that their organizations follow the policies and procedures governing the access process. Most importantly, they must take strong and immediate action to stop behaviour of the type this investigation uncovered.
Through the investigation that is the subject of this report, I found a pattern of improper involvement by a small group of ministerial staff members at Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) in responding to requests under the Access to Information Act. These staffers inserted themselves in various ways into a process that was designed to be carried out in an objective manner by public servants. Consequently, the rights conferred under the Act were compromised.
At the conclusion of the investigation, I made a number of recommendations to PWGSC to prevent political interference from recurring. The Minister accepted all recommendations with the exception of referring the matters to the appropriate law enforcement agency. A number of measures were implemented by March 31, 2014.
I encourage all departments and the Treasury Board Secretariat to take note of my recommendations and implement them as needed.