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CHAPTER 2- Welcoming Access To Information
As reported in last year's annual report and in Chapter 1, the Office of the Information Commissioner became subject to the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act on April 1, 2007. As such, we joined the many other federal institutions that are veterans of receiving and responding to access to information and privacy requests.
While we welcome this development, so we can do even more to ensure open government and access to government information, we know that our efforts in this area will be subject to considerable scrutiny, given who we are. As the body appointed by Parliament to investigate complaints against federal institutions, we fully expect that the public and others will be particularly interested in how well we manage and disclose information.
This added responsibility will be a learning experience but there is no doubt we are aiming to meet a high standard of compliance. This chapter briefly describes the various activities we undertook in 2007-2008 to fulfill our new obligations. We expect to do much more on this front in 2008-2009.
We set up a secretariat-essentially an access to information and privacy office-in the Office's Information Management Division to administer both Acts. This involves responding to requests under both laws, as well as to requests from other institutions considering releasing information generated by the Office (called consultations). The secretariat is also notified of any access to information complaints against the Office that are referred to the ad hoc Information Commissioner for investigation (see below).
In 2007-2008, we received 93 access requests and 3 privacy requests. We participated in 21 consultations and were notified of 10 complaints. See box for details of the seven complaints that were completed during the year. The remaining three are still under investigation.
The secretariat is doing some foundational work to ensure that everyone in the Office is able to comply with the law. For example, the secretariat is producing a policy and procedures manual to help manage and administer access requests. The secretariat also gave awareness training to employees on their legal responsibilities under both Acts and the policy requirements that stem from those responsibilities.
As part of the welcome movement toward voluntary disclosure of government information, the secretariat is making information more readily available to the public. Of particular note are the "Grids," which comprise the investigators' working manual. These are now available on our website (www.infocom. gc.ca/grids/default-e.asp). These documents provide important insight into the work of the Office and how we investigate complaints. The secretariat has plans to share further information with the public on our website and to enhance the site's features.
Ad hoc Information Commissioner
Although we are aiming to achieve a flawless record in responding to access to information requests, access requesters still have the right to voice their concerns and to make complaints.
The amendments to the Access to Information Act stemming from the Federal Accountability Act that made the Office subject to the Act did not set out how access to information complaints against us are to be handled. To ensure the integrity of the complaints process and that adequate safeguards are in place to prevent the conflict of interest that would arise if we had to investigate ourselves, the Commissioner appointed an ad hoc Information Commissioner to handle these investigations.
The Honourable Peter de C. Cory graciously agreed to take up this new office, establishing guiding principles for it and how it would operate. He receives and independently investigates complaints against us and has the same functions and powers as the Commissioner to conduct investigations and make recommendations. Appendix 1contains the ad hoc Information Commissioner's first annual report.
The Honourable Peter de C. Cory, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, is a distinguished jurist of international repute. In addition, he has held various positions as commissioner, such as Commissioner to study the qualifications, salary and pensions of Military Judges, and Commissioner to investigate the reasons for the wrongful conviction of Thomas Sophonow for murder and to fix the compensation payable to him arising from his wrongful conviction and imprisonment. In June 2004, Mr. Cory was appointed Chancellor of York University.
The Office secured funding that we will use in 2008-2009 to buy software to support the processing of access and privacy requests. The software will also help us comply with the reporting requirements set out in Treasury Board's policies on access to information and privacy protection, as well as produce the annual reports on the administration of the Acts that we will present to Parliament each year.