Information Commissioner’s appearance before ETHI Committee

May 12, 2023
Ottawa, ON

(Check against delivery)

Opening Remarks

Thank you for inviting me to speak to this committee today.

I am pleased to report that my office had another record year in 2022-2023. During the last fiscal year, my team has closed 8,089 complaints. Since the beginning of my mandate in 2018, the annual number of complaints closed by my office has increased by 310%.

This is good news, but it is only part of the story.

We also saw a record influx of 7,407 new complaints. This represents a 7% increase compared to the previous year. Through my team’s extraordinary efforts, we have just managed to keep pace with the growing volume of incoming complaints.

Because these new complaints replace the older ones we managed to conclude, we are slowly reducing our inventory.

Despite our efficiencies and given the increased number of complaints registered, our inventory now stands at approximately 3,400 complaints.

Even a reduction of a couple of hundred complaints every year will not enable me to eliminate this inventory before the end of my mandate. Many of the files remaining in our inventory are very complex. They sometimes involve tens of thousands of pages with many exemptions claimed. At the current rate, it would take several more years to close all of these complaints.

I still intend to try to secure temporary funding to tackle this inventory, in spite of the fact that the Government turned down my recent request for more resources.

This brings me to a topic I raised during previous appearances as well as in a letter I sent to the Chair of this committee last week.

On more than one occasion, Agents of Parliament have been obliged to submit requests for additional funding through a minister overseeing a department for which the Agent has an oversight role. Such requests are currently required to include language on how this will contribute to “Government priorities” and other considerations that should not be determining factors in granting such funding.

Whether or not these requests are granted is secondary to the real issue: the optics of needing to work through central agencies in order to secure funding may create the appearance of a potential or real conflict of interest in the conduct of my investigations. 

In the letter I sent to this committee, I suggested that a specific recommendation regarding the need for an independent funding mechanism for the Office of the Information Commissioner be added to the report of your study on the Access to Information system.

For years now, my fellow Agents of Parliament and I have been asking for a funding model where we are accountable only to Parliament, not the government of the day.

There is no reason this cannot be achieved. Indeed, several other bodies associated with Parliament operate effectively under alternate funding and accountability models.

My colleagues would agree that this is not about money. This is a matter of independence and credibility of our role and our democratic institutions.

We will continue to work together to press for a commitment that the Government implement an alternative model that reflects our accountability to Parliament. 

The President of the Treasury Board declared before this Committee last month that she supports the independence of the Information Commissioner. If the Government is serious about access to information, and if it is serious about the independence of Agents of Parliament, it should show it by this important measure as soon as possible.

This concludes my opening remarks. 

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