and Openness in
To help institutions meet their obligations under the Access to Information Act and ensure complainants understand our role and work, the Commissioner has made it a priority to ensure the Office of the Information Commissioner is transparent and open in day-to-day operations.
ENHANCING OUR WEBSITE
As a key communications channel for the organization, our website provides important information to institutions, complainants and others, about what we do and how. To ensure it remains a useful tool for all who are seeking to learn more about the Commissioner, the Office of the Information Commissioner and our work, we completed a significant redesign and reorganization of our website in 2018–19. The new site will be launched in 2019–20.
On the new site, we will be providing more information to institutions to clarify how we approach investigations and interpret the Act, building on the “Information Commissioner’s guidance” content we launched on our current website in October 2018. There, we have made available information on our updated investigation processes, guidance on our expectations for institutions when working with us to resolve complaints, and the Commissioner’s interpretations of regularly applied sections of the Act—including key points taken from cases featured in our annual reports over the last decade. Together, these tools will help institutions better meet their obligations under the Act.
The website is also an important vehicle for facilitating the complaint process. Since launching the online complaint formon our site in December 2017, we have been receiving an increasing number of new complaints this way. As part of the work to enhance the website, we developed and tested ways to make the form better and easier to use, in response to feedback from users. In 2019–20, we expect to launch additional features to enhance the value and usability of the form.
We released new visuals on the website that set out step by step how we investigate the various types of complaints we receive. More of these infographics are to follow in 2019–20. We also developed a simpler set of terms to describe the results of our investigations (called “disposition categories”). These benefit both institutions and complainants by clearly indicating the outcome of investigations.
In preparation for changes to how we would work should the proposed amendments to the Act that were before Parliament in 2018–19 become law, we have already planned for our website to feature the text of any orders the Commissioner would make to resolve complaints. We also intend to post summaries of the findings of noteworthy and precedential investigations, and guidance for institutions on implementing the new provisions of the Act. In addition, we are exploring other platforms for publishing our reports of findings.
The Access to Information Act provides requesters with a right of access to records that are “under the control” of a government institution. While the Act does not define “control,” the courts have affirmed that this term should be interpreted broadly.
For example, Canada (Information Commissioner) v. Canada (Minister of National Defence), 2011 SCC 25, para. 48, notes that partial, transient or de facto control of a record by an institution is sufficient to constitute control for the purposes of the Act.
The courts have considered a range of factors when determining whether institutions have control over records. Consequently, we examine the issue of control on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as the substantive content of the records, the circumstances in which they were created, and the legal relationship between the institution and the record holders, as set out in the above-noted case, and other factors drawn from case law.
ISSUING CLEAR INTERPRETATIONS:
As part of our efforts to increase transparency, we are examining issues that arise regularly in investigations, and developing and communicating consistent and clear approaches to them, including how we interpret the Act. One such issue is the control of records.
Determining who controls requested records is important, since records that are not under institutional control are not subject to the Act. For example, in investigations we completed in 2018–19, we found that records concerning individuals’ involvement with volunteer and professional associations were not in the institution’s control—and therefore not subject to the Act—even though the institution had copies of the records in their offices. We came to this conclusion for a number of reasons, including these:
- The records did not concern the mandate, obligations, functions or operations of the institution.
- The records were not created as part of the individuals’ duties or functions as employees of the institution.
- The institution did not by law have to create or keep the records.
We will publish new guidance on how we investigate complaints that touch on the control of records on our website in 2019–20.
UNDERLINING THE NEED FOR
TRANSPARENCY WITH STAKEHOLDERS
Over the year, the Commissioner regularly emphasized the importance of transparency during presentations to groups such as the Canadian Access and Privacy Association, the Canadian Bar Association, and at the University of Alberta’s annual access and privacy conference.
Similarly, she took questions about her priorities and approach to her work from both federal employees (a panel put on by the Canada School of Public Service) and journalists (FOI Friday, organized by the Canadian Association of Journalists) during Right to Know Week in September 2018.
At the International Conference of Information Commissioners in South Africa in March 2019, the Commissioner had her first opportunity to network with her counterparts from around the world.
She spoke on two panels, one on access to information as a tool to enhance accountability and transparency, and a second on ensuring the establishment of independent, credible and effective access oversight bodies.
The Commissioner played a significant leadership role during the conference, providing advice on implementation of access legislation to colleagues whose countries have less established access systems, and sharing best practices.
The Commissioner was also involved in planning for the Open Government Partnership summit to be held in Ottawa in May 2019. She has agreed to moderate a panel on the declassification of government information, bringing together experts from a number of countries to discuss this important topic.
Date modified: 2019-06-17