Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. I have been looking forward to the opportunity to speak to this committee.
I am eager to answer your questions about how my office works to uphold the right of access through our investigations, the guidance we provide to complainants and institutions, as well as our observations regarding the access to information regime.
2021-22 was a record year for the number of complaints submitted to my office. We registered nearly 7000 complaints between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022. This represents an increase of 70% over the previous fiscal year.
My team remains committed to ensuring that the Access to Information Act is properly applied and that requesters are able to access the information to which they are entitled.
However, this steady and ever-increasing stream of complaints represents a major challenge for my office. In response to this challenge, we have thrown everything we have at these complaints. Our extraordinary efforts to boost our performance have included putting capital expenditures, longer-term projects and all hiring except for investigators on hold in order to put more resources towards investigations and ultimately close nearly 6800 files last year. This is well above the 4400 files we are expected to close, based on our current funding.
Even with our improvements in efficiency, and our continuously improving results, we are not able to keep pace. Our backlog continues to grow.
In concrete terms, this means that Canadians are not getting timely resolution of their complaints for access to information requests related to contracts signed by the government during COVID.
It means that residents in your riding still don’t have the information they are seeking on immigration applications for loved ones.
It also means that numerous First Nations communities are still denied access to records that will help us move forward with reconciliation.
The scale of the challenge is such that we cannot innovate our way out of this situation. We are at risk of not being able to provide even the most basic minimum of service to Canadians.
Additional resources for my office will be needed to reduce the number of complaints in our inventory, while at the same time ensuring that new complaints are dealt with in a timely manner.
For some time, I have been sounding the alarm on issues with the access to information system that have grown worse since the onset of the pandemic. In March of 2020, I stated that a properly functioning access system is critical to ensuring accountability, transparency, and the trust of the public.
Across the federal access to information regime, government institutions have had more than two years to adapt to the reality of a pandemic and the challenges it brought to our daily lives and our work environment. Yet, COVID-19 continues to be used as an excuse for poor performance in the area of access to information.
This is not acceptable. Institutions must live up to their legislative obligations.
In my meetings with Ministers and senior leaders, I emphasize that they must make the right of access to information a priority.
There is no need to wait for legislative change to take action, especially considering that the review of the Act the Government was required by law to launch in 2020 has not yet concluded. TBS’s report on the review of the access regime was originally planned for the beginning of 2022. Unfortunately, it has not yet been released.
In addition, in spite of clear evidence that institutional capacity to process access to information requests has degraded overall, the recent budget offered very little funding to bolster this capacity.
All of this paints a bleak picture of the state of access in 2022.
I will now be happy to take your questions.