As indicated earlier in this report, the Information Commissioner initiated 760 complaints this year against government institutions. What is to be made of this high number? Does it indicate a shift in the commissioner’s approach to oversight?
Here is the explanation. The 760 complaints were made against three government institutions: Royal Canadian Mounted Police (481), Privy Council Office (126), and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (153). All the complaints were of delay. Indeed, in each case, the initiated complaints covered all access requests to these three institutions that had not been answered, despite the lapse of statutory deadlines (i.e. all requests in "deemed-refusal" status). The first reason for the commissioner’s decision to initiate these complaints was a long-term inability by these institutions to respect statutory response deadlines. The second reason was the apparent failure of these institutions to act on recommendations for improvement that the Commissioner had made to these institutions in previous report cards. The third reason, perhaps the most important, was concern that a "squeeky-wheel-gets-the-grease" approach (i.e. awaiting the receipt of individual complaints of delay against these institutions) was unfair to the many requesters whose answers were late but who did not choose to make complaints to the Commissioner.
This systemic approach to the problem of delay in answering access requests will be used with greater frequency, given a recent trend upward in the number of delay complaints.