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Message from the Commissioner
Access to information is fundamental to democracy, as a way for citizens to keep their governments accountable.
Political interference with the access process, which was set up in the Access to Information Act, to operate without bias or partisanship, undermines this accountability.
The investigation that is the subject of this special report centres on an incident of interference with an access request by a political staff member in a Minister's office. The case also puts into sharp focus the consequences of public officials not exercising their duty to say "no" to inappropriate requests from those who have no authority to make them.
The results of the investigation highlight a significant limitation in the Act. The law was drafted such that it is very difficult for the Information Commissioner to ensure that political staff members are held accountable for interference with the Act. In particular, the confidentiality provisions of the Act make it impossible for the Commissioner to directly refer matters of interference involving political staff members to law enforcement agencies for investigation and possible criminal prosecution.
To address this gap, as well as other deficiencies, I am recommending a review of the relevant sections of the Access to Information Act to ensure that the Information Commissioner may respond fully and appropriately to all instances of interference.
I will take up the theme of interference again in subsequent reports – looking at other instances of interference with the access process at PWGSC and also at interference as a systemic issue that affects the access system as a whole.