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CHAPTER 7 - Looking Ahead
We will be taking on a number of initiatives in 2008-2009, as well as an extensive program of work to continue the fundamental improvements the Office made in 2007-2008 and ensure we are always serving Canadians to the best of our ability.
Intake and early resolution unit
At the beginning of 2008-2009, our new intake and early resolution unit will begin work on a pilot basis. During the year, we will assess the success of this approach, examine lessons learned and adjust as necessary before rolling out the unit permanently.
We will put our service standards aside until such time as we can assess what impact the new unit has had on the timeliness of responses and our overall performance and productivity.
New approach to closing files
As a result of our successful work in responding to several hundred complaints launched in a very short time against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (see Chapter 4), we will no longer keep investigations open until such time as institutions provide final responses to requesters. When a reasonable target date can be established in a particular set of circumstances, we will consider the complaint resolved, monitor its progress and follow up where necessary. Should the institution not meet its target date, we may initiate our own complaint or the requester may do so on the basis that he or she has become aware of new grounds on which to complain.
Canadian Newspaper Association
At year-end, we were in the final stages of completing our investigation into a complaint filed by the Canadian Newspaper Association against all federal institutions asking us to investigate the existence of special rules for processing access to information requests from the media. We will issue our findings in early 2008-2009, which we will also include in our special report to Parliament in October 2008.
Criminal Lawyers' Association
In 2008-2009, we will be watching with interest, and will consider seeking leave to intervene in a case before the Supreme Court of Canada involving the constitutionality of a section of Ontario's freedom of information legislation (Ministry of Public Safety and Security et al. v. Criminal Lawyers' Association, S-32172).
In a criminal trial for a 1983 murder, an Ontario court stayed the proceedings against two accused on Charter grounds, finding that the rights of the accused had been violated as a result of “abusive conduct by state officials” involving deliberate non-recording of evidence and non-disclosure of information. Following this decision, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) was asked to investigate the conduct of the police force involved and the prosecution. It reported that there was no evidence of attempts to obstruct justice but it did not release its report.
The Criminal Lawyers' Association submitted a request under Ontario's freedom of information legislation to the Ministry of Public Safety and Security seeking records concerning the OPP review.
The Ministry refused to disclose documents, including the police report, on the basis of three exemptions under the Act.
The issue in the case is whether the public interest override (section 23), which applies only to some exemptions, complies with the guarantee of freedom of expression in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Two judges of the Ontario Court of Appeal found that “s. 23 of the Act infringes s. 2(b) of the Charter by failing to extend the public interest override to the law enforcement and solicitor-client privilege exemptions ... and that this infringement cannot be justified under s. 1 of the Charter.” A third judge dissented, finding no Charter violation. The Ministry was granted leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada.
25th anniversary of the Access to Information Act
The Access to Information Act and its companion legislation, the Privacy Act, came into force on Canada Day 1983. Both these laws have made important contributions to the advancement of freedom and democracy in Canada.
With the law on access, Parliament granted Canadians greater rights of access to records controlled by federal institutions and, by the same token, a way to hold decision makers accountable for their policies, decisions and actions with regard to government information.
After 25 years, the Access to Information Act continues to be sound in terms of its concept, structure and balance, but there is work that needs to be done to modernize it from legislative and administrative perspectives. The Commissioner stands ready to help Parliament and the government modernize the access to information system.
Throughout 2008-2009, there will be a number of activities to highlight the importance of both laws and the work of access to information and privacy specialists across government. We will be seeking the views of stakeholders and the general public on modernizing the access to information system. As a first step, we will hold a roundtable in June 2008 with stakeholders on administrative and legislative reform. We will also invite the general public to comment on a number of discussion papers.
Right to Know Week
Around the world, September 28 marks International Right to Know Day, dedicated to the promotion of freedom of information. The goal is to raise citizens' awareness of their right of access to government information. This year, Right to Know Week is from September 29 to October 3, 2008.
In Canada, Right to Know Week is celebrated to promote the right to information as a fundamental human right and to campaign for citizen participation in open, democratic government. This national event offers an opportunity for anyone interested in promoting freedom of information as a fundamental right to engage in an informed dialogue with Canadians of all ages.
Reviewing funding and operations
Recent changes brought about by the Federal Accountability Act, as well as our growing backlog of complaints, have led us to focus on how we serve our clients, including our investigations and administrative support. In 2008-2009, we will be doing a thorough review of our funding, operations, staffing levels and, in particular, our information technology systems (called an A-base review) to determine whether they might adversely affect our ability to fulfill our legislative mandate, which might put the integrity of our program at risk. This review will also help in identifying where we can optimize the use of our resources and improve the efficiency of our operations.