2014-2015 6. Looking ahead
Access to information: Freedom of expression and the rule of law
The upcoming year, 2015–2016, will see the next developments in the Commissioner’s application before the Ontario Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of the amendments to the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act brought about by the enactment of Bill C-59.
As amended, the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act retroactively ousts the application of the Access to Information Act to long-gun registry records, including the Commissioner’s power to make recommendations and report on the findings of investigations relating to these records and the right to seek judicial review in Federal Court of government decisions not to disclose these records. The legislation also retroactively immunizes Crown servants from any administrative, civil or criminal proceedings with respect to the destruction of long-gun registry records or for any act or omission done in purported compliance with the Access to Information Act.
The Commissioner’s application seeks to invalidate these amendments on the grounds that they unjustifiably infringe the constitutional right of freedom of expression and that they contravene the rule of law by interfering with vested rights of access to this information.
Scientists and the media
On February 20, 2013, the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch made a complaint to the Commissioner alleging that federal government communications and media relations policies and practices have undergone significant changes in recent years. These organizations also alleged that current policies and practices prevent the media and, through it, the wider public, from obtaining timely access to government scientists to speak with them about publicly funded scientific research of significant national concern.
On March 27, 2013, the Commissioner began a systemic investigation to determine whether government communications and media relations policies are impeding the right of access to information under the Act by restricting government scientists from publicly communicating about their research.
In 2015–2016, the Commissioner intends to complete and report on this systemic investigation.
Lean process for investigations
The Commissioner will pilot test a “lean process” for investigating complaints in 2015–2016. The objective is to establish clear procedures and to increase predictability for complainants and institutions.
The future of transparency
Modernizing the Access to Information Act remains a priority for the Commissioner. She will continue to speak out on the need to bring Canada’s law up to date so it is a relevant and effective tool. She will also stand ready to assist parliamentarians should they decide to modernize the Act once Parliament reconvenes after the fall 2015 election.
Canada’s commitment to open government
The government’s current action plan under the international Open Government Partnership comes to an end in 2016. The Commissioner will continue to provide recommendations to the government on the Open Government action plan in order to ensure an integrated vision that recognizes access to information as an important foundation of open government.
Employer of choice
Talent management will continue to be a top-of-mind concern in 2015–2016. The Commissioner will continue to develop the tools and training needed by employees to foster a culture of excellence among her staff.
Under her new strategic plan that will be published in 2015–2016, the Commissioner will launch a digital strategy aimed at increasing the use of blogging and social media in an effort to further engage access stakeholders and Canadians. To be a leader in the area of transparency and an agent of change, the Commissioner will also develop targeted approaches to interact with a broader group of stakeholders and develop more sustained interest in access to information.