Preparing for Bill C-58
The House of Commons and the Senate continued to consider Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, throughout the year.
APPEARING BEFORE PARLIAMENT
The Commissioner followed Bill C-58 closely as it worked its way through Parliament and was studied by the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. Office of the Information Commissioner officials provided an informal briefing on access to information to the members of that committee in September 2018, prior to the Commissioner’s appearance before the committee in October.
During her appearance, the Commissioner raised four concerns about the Bill.
Notable among these was the requirement that requesters provide the specific subject matter of their request, the type of record being requested and the period for which the record was being requested or the date of the record. Among the factors that prompted the Commissioner’s concern were the views of Indigenous groups that these stipulations would limit their ability to request records related to residential schools, land claims and other important issues.
During its detailed review of the Bill, the Senate committee passed all four of the amendments recommended by the Commissioner:
- The detailed requirements for making a request were removed. The committee agreed with the Commissioner that demanding this level of specificity when submitting a request would be detrimental to access.
- The Commissioner and complainants would be allowed, after the Commissioner issued an order to have an institution take specific action to resolve a complaint, to file a certified copy of that order with the Registrar of the Federal Court in certain circumstances. Doing so would make the order enforceable as an order of that court, such that an institution could not disregard it.
- The majority of the amendments in the Bill, including the Commissioner’s new order-making powers, would become operative at the same time the Bill comes into effect. Previously, a one-year transition period had been proposed for some amendments.
- The Privacy Commissioner’s involvement in access investigations was clarified to appropriately balance Canadians’ rights to both privacy and timely access.
In addition, the Commissioner was asked to appear before the committee on April 3, 2019, on the issue of whether and how the Federal Court of Canada should review the Commissioner’s findings and orders.
“As the Information Commissioner, it is my responsibility to ensure the appropriate application of the Access to Information Act. With these four key amendments I have recommended to you today, I believe that Bill C-58 will give me better tools and authority to ensure the right of access is respected and that government institutions are complying with the Act.”
In anticipation of the Bill’s passage, we continued to prepare to implement a number of measures that would have a direct impact on our operations.
In particular, we focused on how we would receive, process and make decisions on applications from institutions for the Commissioner’s permission to decline to process requests as being vexatious, having been made in bad faith or otherwise being an abuse of the right to make a request. Recognizing that efficient communication would be crucial to this process being effective, we tested a platform that would allow requesters and institutions to submit their views on such applications through a secure server.
We are also reviewing other amendments the Senate committee put forward, with an eye to efficient implementation.
Date modified: 2019-06-17