Information Commissioner urges Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to challenge the status quo in its handling of access to information requests

Gatineau, Quebec, May 25, 2021 – The Information Commissioner of Canada’s special report, Access at Issue: Challenging the Status Quo, was tabled today in Parliament. The report details the results of her investigation into systemic issues affecting Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s (IRCC) handling of access to information requests. 

While complaints against IRCC have historically represented a significant majority of the complaints investigated by the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC), primarily due to their receiving the highest volume of requests of any government institution, these trends have accelerated in recent years. In 2019-20, IRCC received almost three times more access requests than all other government institutions combined.

The Commissioner launched this investigation to better understand the dramatic increase in information requests received by IRCC for immigration application files, as well as in complaints registered by the OIC against IRCC. One of the focal points was to discover why IRCC receives so many access requests regarding the status of immigration applications when there are other options available to applicants or their representatives to obtain information.

“The key findings of this systemic investigation lead me to conclude that many of the issues related to access to information at IRCC can be addressed through a new approach to providing the information Canadians—and potentially, future Canadians—are seeking,” said Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard. “This approach should recognize that access requests should complement, but not replace, proper mechanisms allowing individuals to directly and effectively obtain the information they need.”

“It is my hope that the innovations IRCC described in its response as well as in its work plan and management plan, along with additional resources, will lead to more information being available to immigration clients and their representatives through other means than access requests, thus lessening the burden on the system,” added Commissioner Maynard.

The report details four issues of concern affecting IRCC’s ability to respond to access requests in a timely manner, including a lack of alternate approaches for clients in obtaining information as well as insufficient resources within the department. The report also provides five recommendations for tackling these issues effectively.

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