Remarks by the Information Commissioner of Canada

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy And Ethics

Main Estimates: Vote 1 under the Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Canada

May 10, 2016

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Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to discuss the Main Estimates of the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada.

One of the fundamental components of the right of access is the independent review of government’s handling of access requests. The Access to Information Act established the Office of the Information Commissioner as the first level of independent review. Requesters who are not satisfied with how institutions handled their access request have the right to complain to my office.

My office’s primary responsibility is to conduct efficient, fair and confidential investigations into these complaints. I am required by law to investigate all complaints that fall within my jurisdiction. I have no discretion to refuse to investigate a complaint.

The overall Main Estimates for my office is $11.3 million, including employee benefit plans. Of that amount, 78 percent is spent on the program and 22 percent on internal services. I have 93 employees to assist me in carrying out my mandate.

My office receives two types of complaints. Administrative complaints relate to matters such as delays in responding to requests. Refusal complaints relate to matters such as the application of exemptions or exclusions used to withhold information.

The number of complaints the office has received ranged from 1,689 in 2009–2010 to 2,047 in 2015–2016, reaching a high of 2,081 in 2013–14. Over the same period, the number of complaints the office closed ranged from the high of 2,117 in 2009–10 to the low of 1,281 in 2015–16.

We always strive for efficiency gains. In the last few years, for example, we:

  • Updated and rolled out a comprehensive training suite for all new investigators;
  • Developed a pilot project for mediation of complaints and trained all investigators;
  • Took strategic approaches to closing complaints, including investigating large groups of complaints together.

These efforts have led to results. For example, the average number of files closed per investigator went from 39 in 2011-2012 to 52 last year. The overall median turnaround time for closing complaints in 2015-2016 from the date files are assigned was 84 days (48 days for administrative complaints and 166 days for refusal complaints).

Currently, there is a delay before a file can be assigned to an investigator. The median delay was 127 days as of March 31, 2016 (83 days for administrative complaints and 230 days for refusal complaints). As of March 31, 2016, the inventory of complaints stands at 3,000 files.  

We are continuing to implement changes in 2016-2017 to improve our investigations. For example, we are implementing a simplified process for investigating administrative complaints, we are rolling-out our mediation project to all investigators and we are developing a code of procedures, an investigator manual and an online complaint form.

We are also continuing to take advantage of shared services opportunities.

At our current resource level, I expect that the inventory will continue to grow, but I am hopeful that ongoing discussions with the government on additional funding will be successful.

I have submitted the following information for the Committee’s considerations: an organizational chart of my office, a breakdown of expenditures by program and internal services, a summary of our caseload and the status of our inventory.

In closing, Mr. Chair, I would like to say that I am very fortunate to have a dedicated and high-performing team. Together, we strive for excellence and for the protection of Canadians’ quasi-constitutional right to know.

Mr. Chair, I am ready to answer your questions.