2013-2014 Message from the Commissioner
I am often asked to explain why access to information is important to Canadians.
In response, I point out that federal policies, programs and laws touch so many aspects of everyday life—the regulation of health products, international travel, mail delivery, transportation and food safety, to name just a few. Being able to request and receive government information allows citizens to hold public bodies to account for the decisions they make on Canadians’ behalf. As such, access to information is a fundamental pillar of a functioning democracy.
Consequently, it is of concern to me when government institutions struggle to provide timely access, take an overly broad approach to exempting information or fail in their duty to assist requesters, as is required by the Access to Information Act.
My office received significantly more complaints in 2013–2014 than it had the year before. This is accounted for, to some extent, by an overall increase in the number of requests to institutions in the previous year. However, only some organizations successfully absorbed this growth; others had, and are continuing to have, difficulty meeting their basic obligations under the Act. These difficulties manifested themselves in a significant increase in complaints about basic administrative matters, such as delays and extensions.
This decline in performance must be promptly addressed. Canadians should be concerned and speak out whenever their quasi-constitutional right of access is in jeopardy. As Commissioner, I call on senior institutional officials to step up their leadership of and commitment to access in their organizations and across government.
My role is to protect the right of access, using the full range of powers at my disposal. In 2013–2014, I closed the most cases I have in three years, and the number of files completed within nine months continued to grow. I thank my team for their contributions to this continuing track record of success.
Despite impacts on my budget, I am resolved to continue to strive to fulfill my mandate as an independent and non-partisan voice on access matters. I will focus on service to Canadians by implementing innovative ways to resolve complaints in a timelier manner. I will also publish an in-depth analysis in 2014–2015 of the compliance of 24 institutions with their obligations under the Act, in terms of their timeliness in responding to access requests and the amount of information they disclose to requesters.
Finally, I will continue to work with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat on administrative enhancements to the system, some of which are already bearing fruit. However, these efforts will only go so far. Real improvement in the access system will only come from modernizing the Act—a long-overdue step that is crucial to advancing the cause of transparency and accountability in Canada.