Annual report of the Information Commissioner ad hoc for 2019–20
The Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) has been subject to the Access to Information Act since 2007 and because it cannot investigate complaints against itself related to its handling of access to information requests, an Information Commissioner Ad Hoc is appointed to conduct such investigations.
Between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020, as Information Commissioner Ad Hoc, I received a number of complaints from individuals who sought my assistance because they were disappointed in the result of an OIC investigation of complaints against federal institutions subject to the Act. Those complaints likely stemmed from a misunderstanding regarding my role. As a result, in such cases I carefully review the nature of the concerns and provide written explanations as to why I cannot act. For instance, I explain why I have no authority to review a decision of the OIC at the conclusion of its investigation into a complaint made against an institution subject to the Act resulting from an access to information request. It is evident that the individual requester of the information has remained dissatisfied with the response provided by the public organization as well as with the outcome of the OIC complaint investigation into the nature of that response. Understandably, the OIC does not provide advice on whether an individual should or should not challenge the findings at the conclusion of its investigation into a complaint.
I point out, however, that the OIC does inform those individuals that another process exists as a further recourse should they choose to avail themselves of that option. This is done through the OIC’s Report of Findings issued at the conclusion of its investigation; the requester/complainant is informed of his or her rights under section 41 of the Act to apply to the Federal Court for judicial review within 45 days. This recourse is also communicated in the final reports published on the OIC website.
In contrast, I can and do receive complaints in cases where the OIC has itself received an access to information request and the requester is not satisfied with the response provided by the OIC. Those cases are investigated by me and findings are provided to the parties.
For the period ending on March 31, 2020, I received a few cases in which I provided explanations as to why the complaints could not be received in the manner referred to above. Meanwhile, during the latter part of that period, I did receive complaints that were receivable, and those cases are currently under investigation.
Anne E. Bertrand, Q.C.