Speaking Notes for Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada
Press Conference for the Release of Annual Report 2016−2017
June 8, 2017
Check against delivery
As I prepared this year’s annual report, I could not help but recall the positivity I felt at the close of 2015–2016.
The Liberal government was elected on a platform of transparency and accountability, and repeatedly promised to significantly reform the Access to Information Act.
Spring 2016 saw the removal of all fees related to access apart from the five-dollar application fee, as well as a pledge to release government information in user-friendly formats. In addition, Budget 2016 included funding for transparency initiatives, and the government obtained a state-level seat on the Steering Committee for the Open Government Partnership.
The Office of the Information Commissioner had a successful year in 2016–2017 thanks to the addition of temporary funding.
However, despite these constructive advancements and the hopeful tone I felt even into the beginning of 2016–2017, the year is ending with a shadow of disinterest on behalf of the government.
Our investigations reveal, once again, that the Act is being used as a shield against transparency and is failing to meet its policy objective to foster accountability and trust in our government. These investigations include:
- deletion of emails subject to an access request;
- problems obtaining records in ministers’ office;
- 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.
Budget 2017 contained no funding for transparency measures and, sadly, there is no direction from the head of the public service regarding transparency, likely meaning there will be minimal impact on the culture of secrecy within the public service.
To top it off, institutional performance in relation to compliance with the Act is showing signs of decline, while Canadians’ demand for information increases. 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 have 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.
In March 2017, the government announced its plans to delay the first phase of the Act’s reform, citing the need to “get it right”. Comprehensive reform of the Act is essential and long overdue, especially in the face of the expanding information realities of the 21st century. A lot of work needs to be done before this government can deliver on its transparency promises.
2017–2018 is shaping up to be a year of change and challenge. In April 2017, I announced I would not seek reappointment as Information Commissioner when my term expires, and was appointed for an interim period of six months beginning on June 29, 2017.
In the coming months, I will continue to work with dedication and passion as the OIC prepares for this transition.
I know I can count on the support of the OIC during this upcoming year. As always, their support and loyalty are unparalleled and their dedication to Canadians exemplary.
I will be pleased to take your questions.