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Releasing information under the Act
There are many detailed questions regarding institutional performance under the Act that we could examine. Consider, for example, the duty to assist provision:
The head of a government institution shall, without regard to the identity of a person making a request for access to a record under the control of the institution, make every reasonable effort to assist the person in connection with the request, respond to the request accurately and completely and, subject to the regulations, provide timely access to the record in the format requested.
In other words, the spirit of the legislation can be summarized by three obligations that institutions must fulfill:
- make every reasonable effort to assist requesters;
- release as much information as possible; and
- release information as quickly as possible.
The OIC had set out to assess how well institutions are doing on the latter two points in this report cards process. Whether we were looking broadly at system-wide issues related to the Act, or focusing on the performance of the ten selected institutions, our primary objective was to shed light on the extent to which institutions are releasing as much information as the Act permits and are getting that information to Canadians as quickly as the Act allows. To the extent that institutions fail to live up to the spirit and letter of the Act, we wanted to understand the root causes and make suggestions for improved performance.
The OIC had planned to derive from an analysis of investigative files whether an institution released to requesters the maximum amount of information that would be required by the Act. After examining a sample of complaint files, we concluded that the information was not sufficient for a reliable review of completeness and accuracy.
The Office of the Information Commissioner will develop and implement by 2009–2010 criteria for measuring the degree to which an institution is releasing information in compliance with the Access to Information Act, and will document the OIC complaint files appropriately.