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Appearance before the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics
Speaking Notes Prepared for Suzanne Legault
Interim Information Commissioner of Canada
Check Against Delivery
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. As you know, I was appointed interim Information Commissioner on June 30, 2009, and I am delighted to appear before this Committee today in that capacity.
With me are my colleagues Andrea Neill, Assistant Commissioner, Complaints Resolution and Compliance, and Lisa Campbell, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Policy, Communications and Operations.
Our discussion today is all the more timely given what various experts as well as ordinary citizens had to say during our recent Right to Know Week on the importance of freedom of information and the urgency to improve our access regime.
I would like to address three main issues this morning. First, I will provide you with a brief overview of the OIC’s Annual Report for 2008-2009, which is a reflection of the excellent leadership of former Commissioner Marleau.
Second, I would like to comment on the government response to the Eleventh Report of this Committee entitled the Access to information Act: First Steps Towards Renewal.
Third, I will outline my priorities as interim Information Commissioner.
You should have received a folder with supporting information to assist with our discussion this morning. You will find in it updated information on the OIC’s case load and resources.
As stated in our Annual Report, this Office owes to former Commissioner Marleau a major realignment of operations and resources designed to improve, amongst other things, our core investigative function. In 2008-2009, we moved ahead with the development of a new business model to streamline the investigative process while promoting greater institutional compliance with the Act.
We sought and obtained a significant increase in our base budget to support this new model. The full funding will be included in the Office’s budget in the next fiscal year.
As a result of our new way of doing business, we were able to close an unprecedented number of cases in 2008-2009. I am also pleased to report that between April 1 and September 30, 2009, the Office closed more complaints (902) than it received (747). Thus, I am confident that we have reached a turning point in tackling the recurring carry over of inventory. Also, as you can see in Tab 5 in your folder, our inventory of pre-April 1, 2008 cases has diminished by about 50%. These are early indicators that our new business model is working.
Mr. Chairman, I stand behind the recommendations made to this Committee by Commissioner Marleau in the spring of 2009. Therefore I share this Committee’s and indeed many stakeholders’ disappointment in the government response to those recommendations.
In my view, reform of the Act is necessary and urgent. Driven by the rapid proliferation and sophistication of information technologies, world economies are increasingly becoming interdependent. Our own economy is mutating from a manufacturing base to a knowledge-based economy. To fuel innovation, researchers and entrepreneurs require timely access to government data they can mash up, repurpose and make their own.
Ordinary citizens have moved from a conventional paper world to a world of texting, blogging and tweeting, and their requirements and expectations for government information have changed drastically. Our legislation needs to reflect this new environment.
My focus since taking on the interim position has been to implement the OIC’s new business model to ensure an effective, thorough, fair and transparent investigative process, while preserving the requirements of confidentiality.
At Commissioner Marleau’s request, our intake and early resolution unit was the subject of an early audit conducted last spring. This audit revealed several areas for improvement, including the time to obtain documents from institutions which spanned an average of 90 days.
I issued a management response to this audit report, with a thorough action plan to address each shortcoming. This has included the publication of a clear OIC directive on Requesting Records from Institutions.
On the systemic front, I published in July a three-year plan that covers both report cards and systemic investigations. This plan takes an integrated approach to the assessment of delays in responding to access requests while encouraging greater proactive compliance from institutions.
This year’s report cards process expands the sample of institutions to be reviewed from 10 to 24. We will specifically look at delays and the average life-span of requests in these institutions. Simultaneously, we will investigate chronic delays related to extensions and consultations. These delays have a detrimental effect across all federal institutions and severely prolong responses to requesters.
We will communicate our findings before the end of the fiscal year. My goal is to present a clear diagnosis with specific recommendations to remedy specific institutional problems with compliance. This will assist in holding the relevant authorities accountable.
Mr. Chairman, my approach as interim Commissioner is simple. I will work diligently to fully implement the OIC’s business model and maximize efficiencies in our investigative process, while ensuring a thorough and fair process for all parties involved. In doing so, I will use all the tools at my disposal under the current legislation to ensure that requesters’ rights are protected.
Meanwhile, I will continue to work relentlessly with all stakeholders − including requesters, Parliamentarians and government officials − to modernize our access to information regime and ensure its continued relevance to Canadians.
I will now be pleased to answer your questions.