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Appearances before Parliamentary Committees

Year


Speaking Notes for Suzanne Legault

Interim Information Commissioner of Canada

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI)

March 30, 2010

Check Against Delivery


Introduction 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and congratulations on your re-election as Chair of this Committee. It is indeed a pleasure to appear before what you qualified as the best and hardest working Committee on Parliament Hill.

Today, I will review some of this year’s successes and highlight my priorities for the year ahead.

Setting the stage for greater efficiencies and enhanced stewardship 

Three years ago, in response to considerable challenges in delivering on our mandate, former Commissioner Marleau, initiated major structural and operational changes. The goal was to improve our core investigative function and ensure diligent stewardship of our operations to deliver high quality services to Canadians. In doing so, Mr. Marleau laid down the foundations of our new business model, tailored to our current and unique challenges.

After a full year of implementation, ongoing monitoring and adjustments, I am proud to say that my Office is now breaking new ground in terms of operational and strategic efficiencies.

Priorities 2009-2010: Maximizing investigative efficiency  

Since starting my term as Interim Commissioner, my priority has been to improve the efficiency of our investigative process. I have supported this effort with a strong integrated human resources strategy.

Here are some of the results:

  • Whereas it took an average of 176 days to process administrative complaints from receipt to disposition, the average turnaround time since October 2009 is 107 days. I am confident that we will meet our objective next year to close 85% of our administrative complaints within a 90-day timeline.

  • We have also made a significant dent in our inventory of pre-April 2008 complaints. This inventory has been reduced from approximately 1600 in November 2008 to less than 400 as of last week.

  • However, the most significant accomplishment this year is, no doubt, the number of cases closed, which stands at 2,062.

Since last summer, I have made full and judicious use of my investigative powers. I am making greater use of the formal reporting process under section 37 of the Act and recommending actions to resolve matters directly to heads of institutions. This approach has proven effective for the release of additional records to complainants. I have also used subpoenas and conducted examinations under oath in appropriate cases.

This success on the operational front has been accompanied by a number of precedent-setting cases.

  • My Office sought and has obtained leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada in the cases of the “Prime Minister’s Agenda.” A hearing date has been set for October 2010.

  • I have issued subpoenas to the CBC for the production of records. The institution is challenging my authority to review documents subject to exclusions under section 68.1 of the Act. This case is now before the Federal Court.

  • In the case of the National Gallery of Canada, I have, for the first time, referred a matter to the Attorney General of Canada in relation to the possible commission of an offence under section 67.1 of the Act. This section provides criminal sanctions for wilful destruction, falsification or concealment of a record, or counselling any person to do so.

Achieving the benefits of the business model also required that I fully staff the investigators positions. We are ending the year–and starting the new one–with a full complement of investigators. Moreover, I have established a structured in-house training program to provide investigators with the extra skills and knowledge they need for optimal performance.

Three-year plan

I have adopted an integrated approach to systemic issues through our three-year plan published last July.

My first step was to look into the pervasive problem of delays through this year’s report cards process. I expanded our sample to 24 institutions–representing 88% of all access requests received by government–to provide a sound, fact-based assessment of the situation.

I will be tabling the report in Parliament on April 13th. I also look forward to discussing it in more detail with this Committee on April 22nd.

Main Estimates 

In terms of this year’s Main Estimates, our total planned spending is $12 million in 2010-2011 and our number of FTEs is 106. This reflects additional funding obtained in 2009-2010.

Mr. Chairman, I am currently using every dollar appropriated to the Office. My budget is extremely stretched and I am operating at full capacity. The changes introduced in the Budget will exert a large burden on my organization since 70% of my budget is allocated to salaries. This means I will have to make difficult choices in the coming years to keep within our appropriations while delivering on our mandate and maintaining excellence in corporate governance.  

Strategically moving into 2010-2011 

The intelligence and expertise gained during these past months allow us to be more strategic and proactive in the way we conduct our investigations. In particular, the in-depth knowledge of our complaints inventory–of its composition and evolution–enables us to devise new strategies to resolve complaints more quickly and efficiently. For example, we might decide to prioritize a complaint based on its merit or, alternatively, process a number of complaints through a portfolio approach by institution, complainant or subject matter.

We are also in a good position to proactively determine where we need to focus our investigative–and training–efforts. For instance, next fiscal year, I will focus on cases related to national security and “advice and recommendations.” In addition, my staff will closely monitor the mandatory notices of extension from institutions to allow us to tackle issues before they become grounds for complaints.

As part of our three-year plan, I am undertaking a systemic investigation into delays and time extensions. As I announced on March 2nd, I will expand the scope and focus of this systemic investigation following recent events to examine whether interference in the processing of access requests is a cause of delay or unduly restricts disclosure under the Act. In parallel, my Office will undertake a report cards assessment of institutions that have become subject to the Act since 2007.

To be strategic and proactive also implies making full use of new technologies to provide greater guidance and serve as a model in providing access to information.

Through our revamped website, we intend to substantially increase public disclosure of our information. Our virtual reading room will give timely access to all OIC decisions and major corporate documents, and list the access to information requests we have received and processed. In addition, we will develop more practice directions regarding our interpretation of the Act and our investigative process.

Mr. Chairman, I informed this Committee last November that my approach as interim Commissioner is simple. I will work diligently to fulfill my mandate by fully implementing the OIC’s business model and maximizing efficiencies in our investigative process. In doing so, I will use all the tools at my disposal under the current legislation and I remain committed to working closely with Parliamentarians, institutions and complainants.

In closing, I would like to put on the public record before this Committee my sincere appreciation for the unwavering support and dedication of my staff in this period of transition.

Thank you.

Ms. Neill and myself will be pleased to answer your questions.