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Speaking notes for Suzanne Legault Information Commissioner of Canada BILL C-19, AN ACT TO AMEND THE CRIMINAL CODE AND THE FIREARMS ACT Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) November 22, 2011

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Good Morning, Mr. Chair,

I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to appear before you and the members of your Committee in regard to Bill C-19, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act.

I will keep my opening remarks brief and simply provide an overview of my mandate and discuss specific provisions of this bill that, in my opinion, would set an unfortunate precedent in terms of the management of government records.

As this is my first time appearing before your Committee, I feel it important to briefly outline the nature of my role at the federal level. The Information Commissioner is an agent of Parliament appointed under the Access to Information Act. I began my seven-year term on June 30, 2010, after serving as Acting Commissioner for a year. My role is largely to review the complaints of individuals and organizations who believe that federal institutions have not respected their rights under the Act.

I am supported in my work by the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, an independent public body set up in 1983 under the Access to Information Act to help resolve complaints from the public about access to government information.

In the course of our investigations, we use mediation and persuasion to help resolve disputes. We bring cases to the Federal Court when they involve important principles of law or legal interpretation. As an ombudsperson, I also work to promote access to information in Canada and abroad.

We actively promote greater freedom of information in Canada, in the name of transparency and accountability, through targeted initiatives such as Right to Know Week and ongoing dialogue with Canadians, Parliament and federal institutions.

Now, in regard to Bill C-19, which your committee is reviewing, I feel that although it has no direct or immediate impact on my day-to-day responsibilities, it does raise major concerns in terms of transparency and accountability in general.

As Information Commissioner, I have serious concerns about the impact this bill will have on government information management and, specifically, about section 29 of the transitional provisions, which dispenses with the Archivist’s role in management of the federal records in question and with Canadians’ right to access those records.

In a nutshell, this transitional provision allows the Commissioner of Firearms (RCMP Commissioner) and each chief firearms officer in the provinces and territories to destroy, as soon as feasible, all records related to the registration of firearms.

Even more worrisome, subsection 29(3) overrides sections 12 and 13 of the Library and Archives of Canada Act—whereby the Archivist’s consent is required before destroying government records—as well as subsections 6(1) and 6(3) of the Privacy Act. I will leave it to the Privacy Commissioner to share with you her own concerns as they relate to the Privacy Act.

Mr. Chair, destroying records on this scale without first obtaining the consent of the Archivist as required by section 12 of the Library and Archives of Canada Act not only modifies the existing records management system, which seeks to ensure transparency and accountability in the disposal of such records, but, in my view, also seems contrary to the Federal Court’s decision in Bronskill.[1]

In that case, Justice Noël stated that the Access to Information Act and the Library and Archives of Canada Act are inextricably linked, such that “Parliament considers access to information in Canada and document retention as essential components of citizens’ right to government information.” I should mention that this decision is currently under appeal before the Federal Court of Appeal, and I am considering filing a motion for leave to intervene in light of the important principle it establishes.

In light of the quasi-constitutional status given to the system for accessing government records and the key role of the Archivist in preserving such records, it therefore follows, in my view, that this bill ignores both the spirit and the purpose of the Access to Information Act and the Library and Archives of Canada Act.

Moreover, I fully agree with the content of the Association of Canadian Archivists’ November 8 letter to Minister Toews, posted on the Association’s Web site at http://archivists.ca/. In it, the Association essentially describes the proposed legislation as overriding a records management system that works and ensures that there is adequate transparency when the government seeks to destroy a selection of its records.

In closing, I would like to thank you, Mr. Chair, for the privilege of appearing before you today to share my concerns about Bill C-19.

I will be pleased to respond to your questions.


[1] Bronskill v. Minister of Canadian Heritage, 2011 FC 983

Handout: Bronskill v Minister of Canadian Heritage, 2011 FC 983 paragraphs 16 to 25RTF Document (36.9 KB)