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Investigations and Reviews
The primary, legislated function of the Information Commissioner is to receive and investigate complaints from persons, including corporations, who believe that their access to information rights have not been respected by government institutions. The Commissioner has no discretion to refuse to investigate a complaint pursuant to subsection 30(1) of the Act. Complaints may allege improper refusal to disclose requested records, undue delay in providing records, inadequate searches for requested records, excessive fees, unreasonable time extensions, refusal to translate requested records, or any other matter relating to requesting or obtaining access to records under the Access to Information Act (the Act).
The law requires that investigations be thorough and fair. While there is no deadline set by law within which investigations must be completed, the office has adopted a service standard policy under which a target of 120 days is set for the completion of investigations of complaints of improper denials of access and 30 days for completing investigations of administrative complaints, such as excessive delay, unreasonable extensions, and excessive fees.
In addition to the investigation of complaints made by individuals, the Commissioner has the authority to initiate the investigation of complaints on his own motion when he is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to investigate a matter relating to requesting or obtaining access to records under the Act. It is pursuant to this authority (contained in subsection 30(3) of the Act) that the Commissioner initiates investigations aimed at addressing systemic problems, such as chronically late responses, improper management of extensions, large backlogs of unanswered requests, and administrative practices that may result in certain classes of requesters (such as media, political, or legal) receiving slower or less forthcoming answers to access requests. The Commissioner’s report card reviews fall within this group of systemic investigations.
As well, individual requesters may cause a systemic investigation by complaining about the same matter against several government institutions or against the government as a whole. In this latter regard, one such investigation, against 21 government institutions, continued in this reporting year as a result of a complaint made by the Canadian Newspaper Association alleging that the government treats access requests from members of the media in a special manner that negatively affects the access rights of this group of requesters.