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INTRODUCTION: A new direction

This annual report records the happenings of a very full year for the Office of the Information Commissioner.

Our activities stemmed from a real desire to ensure that Canada's access to information system is functioning as effectively as possible and to instill a culture of openness and transparency in government, to the benefit of Canadians, parliamentarians and federal institutions.

This first full year under the helm of the new Commissioner saw us take stock of the state of freedom of information in Canada. We assessed how best the Office could get the word out about the importance of freedom of information and do its legislatively mandated work of investigating complaints about how federal institutions handle access to information requests.

It became clear early on that we were going to have to move in a new direction and significantly improve the way we do business. In particular, we determined that we were going to have to make changes to how the Office is structured, the funding we receive, the processes we follow, the technology we use and the complement of employees across the organization (both in number and function) to ensure we can meet our standards of service to Canadians.

The coming into force of the Federal Accountability Act added a layer of complexity. Under this new law, about 70 additional institutions became subject to the Access to Information Act. One of these institutions was the Office of the Information Commissioner. Becoming subject to the Act has had a number of implications for us, not the least of which is that we have had to set up an access to information office, just like most other federal organizations have had for years. This is new territory for us, but it has brought with it great awareness of the challenges federal institutions face in meeting their access to information obligations. This will serve us well in the future.

On top of this were the challenges presented by advances in technology, including the increased amount of data and records available, the growing use and storage of electronic data, and the challenges associated with processing access requests and complaints involving electronic data.

Clearly, these challenges required a new approach. This annual report sets out details of our work to respond to them and move in our new direction.

Chapter 1 describes many of the initiatives we have taken during the year in detail.

Chapter 2 looks at the work we did to comply with the Access to Information Act. In particular, our new responsibilities meant finding an independent ad hoc commissioner to investigate complaints against us, since that is a role the Office may not, and very definitely should not, play itself. Appendix 1 contains the report of the ad hoc Information Commissioner, the Honourable Peter de C. Cory, a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice, who comments on his first year in the office.

This year saw us close 1,381 investigations of complaints into how various federal institutions handled access to information requests. Chapter 3 sets out the key facts and figures of our caseload for the year.

Chapter 4 contains informative case studies of some of those investigations. The case studies provide valuable insight into the work of the Office and our approach to resolving complaints as well as lessons learned for all parties to a complaint.

Chapter 5 reviews key court cases involving access to information issues in 2007-2008.

Chapter 6 highlights legislative activity in 2007-2008 that affects what we do.

Chapter 7 introduces some of the work that is ahead for the Office in the next year, including thoroughly reviewing our operations and funding, and celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Access to Information Act and Canada's annual Right to Know Week.

Three appendices complete the report, the first being the annual report of the ad hoc Information Commissioner, as noted above. Appendix 2 provides details on ongoing legal cases, while Appendix 3 sets out amendments and proposed amendments to the Act and other laws.

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