Access to information is an essential tenet of democracy. By being able to request and receive government information, the public can more effectively ensure federal institutions are transparent in their dealings and accountable for the decisions they make.
The Information Commissioner strives to uphold the right of access by investigating complaints about federal institutions’ handling of requests for information. The cases the Commissioner investigates each year reflect the many roles the federal government plays in Canadian society and the myriad ways federal programs and services touch individual lives.
As a result of the Commissioner’s interventions, requesters in 2013–2014 received information from institutions more quickly than they otherwise would have and had administrative matters, such as the charging of fees, resolved. Another outcome of the Commissioner’s investigations was that requesters received additional records from institutions. Overall, 54 percent of the 680 investigations that involved a refusal to grant access to records and that the Commissioner settled or completed with a finding resulted in institutions’ disclosing more information to the requester.
The Commissioner continued to pursue strategies targeted at effectively and efficiently closing files dealing with national security, international affairs and defence matters, and complaints against the Canada Revenue Agency and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Through a variety of approaches, the Commissioner closed 565 such complaints. As of March 31, 2014, these three groups of files accounted for 38 percent of the inventory of complaints, compared to 46 percent a year earlier.
In late March 2014, the Commissioner filed a notice of appeal in a case decided by the Federal Court that focused on a 1,110-day time extension National Defence had taken to respond to a request. She also pursued numerous other legal cases, including a variety dealing with the disclosure of third-party information by institutions.
The Commissioner continued her dialogue with the President of the Treasury Board on ways to improve the access to information system. In addition, during appearances before Parliament, the Commissioner provided her perspective on a private members’ bill that proposed to replace the CBC’s unique exclusion in the Act with an exemption, and spoke in favour of extending the coverage of the Access to Information Act to the administration of Parliament.
Finally, the Commissioner laid the groundwork for developing a new strategic plan. The new plan, to be launched in the fall of 2014, will guide her office to the end of her current mandate in 2017. The focus of the plan will be on achieving the highest level of performance in investigating complaints and continuing to be an effective catalyst for advancing access, and fostering openness and transparency.