2016-2017 Waiting to process records unnecessarily delays responding to requests

Complaint: The Department of Justice Canada took time extensions of 601 and 815 days under paragraphs 9(1)(a) and (b) to respond to two requests for information about St. Anne’s Residential School and the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement’s Independent Assessment Process.

Investigation: The institution told the OIC that the main reason for the long extensions was the lengthy review required to determine which of the records would be subject to a court order that limited access to the records. However, the institution did not actually process the records, claiming it was unable to do so without risking being in contempt of the order. It was also waiting for a decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal on the order.

Outcome: The Department of Justice Canada agreed that about half of the records (73,000 pages) were beyond the scope of the court order, and released them. The OIC negotiated quarterly interim release dates for the remaining records, supported by a formal recommendation that these dates be respected.

Information Commissioner’s position

  • The institution’s decision to not process the records pending the outcome of the appeal unnecessarily delayed the responses to the requests.
  • The extensions taken in this case were unreasonable.
  • Timeliness is fundamental to the right of access. Receiving a response in a timely manner ensures information is still relevant and that the government can be held to account for its decisions at appropriate times.
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