Public Services and Procurement Canada (Re), 2022 OIC 29

Date: 2022-06-14
OIC file number: 5820-01444
Institution file number: A-2019-00191

Summary

The complainant alleged Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) did not respond to an access request by the extended due date under subsection 9(1) of the Access to Information Act. The request was for all documents regarding the Copyright Media Clearance Program for the period January 1, 2018 to June 12, 2019. The complaint falls within paragraph 30(1)(c) of the Act. PSPC had not responded to the access request when the extension of time expired on September 4, 2020. The issue of whether the extension of time was reasonable is moot.

The complaint is well founded.

The Information Commissioner ordered the Minister of Public Works and Government Services to provide a final response to the access request within 10 days after the day on which the order takes effect under paragraph 36.1(4)

PSPC gave notice that it would not be fully implementing the order.

Complaint

[1]      The complainant alleged Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) did not respond to an access request by the extended due date under subsection 9(1) of the Access to Information Act. The request was for all documents regarding the Copyright Media Clearance Program for the period January 1, 2018 to June 12, 2019.

Investigation

Time limits for responding to access requests

[2]      Section 7 requires institutions to respond to access requests within 30 days unless they have transferred a request to another institution or validly extended the time they have to respond by meeting the requirements of section 9. When an institution does not respond to a request by the 30-day or extended deadline, it is deemed to have refused access to the requested records under subsection 10(3).

[3]      Nevertheless, the institution is still required to provide a response to the access request.

What is a response?

[4]      The response must be in writing and indicate whether the institution is giving access to any or part of the requested records.

  • When the response indicates that the institution has given access to the records or part of them, the institution must provide access to those records.
  • When the response indicates that the institution has denied access to the records or part of them, the institution must explain that the records do not exist or that the institution has exempted them, or part of them, under a specific provision, which the institution must name.

[5]      In specific circumstances, the institution may refuse to confirm or deny in its response whether records exist under subsection 10(2).

Did the institution respond within the time limits?

[6]      PSPC received the access request on June 12, 2019. On July 12, 2019 it extended the time it had to respond by 420 days under paragraphs 9(1)(a), 9(1)(b) and 9(1)(c).

[7]      PSPC had not responded to the access request when the extension of time expired on September 4, 2020. I conclude, therefore, that PSPC did not meet its obligation to respond to the request by the extended due date. PSPC is deemed to have refused access to the requested records under subsection 10(3).

[8]      According to PSPC, there are thousands of pages of responsive records for the request. PSPC has submitted that their Access to Information and Privacy unit lacks adequate resources to process the request and has also submitted that third party consultations have been difficult due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

[9]      On February 25, 2021, PSPC committed to responding no later than February 21, 2022.

[10]    On February 3, 2022, PSPC stated that they could not complete the response for February 21, 2022 and committed to responding by April 30, 2022.

[11]    On March 18, 2022, PSPC confirmed that they would be responding no later than December 31, 2022.

[12]    PSPC’s failure to take necessary steps earlier on, to meet the date set out in the time extension it claimed, which has long passed, is not a reason to delay the final response to the request; rather, it is a reason to expedite the final response.

Result

[13]    The complaint is well founded.

Order

Under subsection 36.1(1) of the Act, I order the Minister of Public Works and Government Services to provide a final response to the access request within 10 days after the day on which the order takes effect under paragraph 36.1(4).

Email a copy of the response letter to the Office of the Information Commissioner’s Registrar (Greffe-Registry@oic-ci.gc.ca).

On April 1, 2022, I issued my initial report to the Minister of Public Works and Government Services, setting out my order.

On May 31, 2022, the Minister gave me notice that she intends to provide a response to the access request in a phased approach to allow PSPC to review the records while making every reasonable effort to make them available as the review is complete. As a result, she estimates that a complete response to the access request will be provided by December 31, 2022.

By not providing a final response within the time limit I ordered, the Minister is not fully implementing my order. As I indicated to the Minister in my initial report, if she does not plan to implement my order she must apply to the Federal Court for a review within the time limit set out in subsection 41(2) of the Act.

Section 41 of the Act provides a right to any person who receives this report to apply to the Federal Court for a review. Complainants and institutions must apply for this review within 35 business days after the date of this report. The person who applies for a review must serve a copy of the application for review to the relevant parties, as per section 43. If no one applies for a review by this deadline, this order takes effect on the 36th business day after the date of this report.

Related litigation proceeding before the Federal Court: The Attorney General of Canada v. The Information Commissioner of Canada, T-1623-22. The steps taken in this proceeding are available using the following link: Federal Court - Court Files (fct-cf.gc.ca)

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