2014-2015 Message from the Commissioner
The year 2014–2015 was probably one of the most challenging of my mandate to date. Significant advances were achieved, but equally significant regressions also occurred.
First with the positive.
As Canadians, we continue to benefit every day from the results of access to information requests, as is reported daily in the country’s public record, be it in traditional or digital media.
The Federal Court of Appeal brought much-needed discipline to the use of time extensions that institutions can claim before responding to requests. Similarly, the Federal Court clarified that government institutions cannot charge fees to requesters for electronic records.
This year, I tabled a special report in Parliament on modernizing the Act to outline the progressive norms in access to information. This followed my recommendations to the government on its second action plan on open government. Although the government is committed to developing a culture of openness within federal institutions, it, unfortunately, continues to refuse to conduct a comprehensive review of the antiquated Access to Information Act. The government still does not see the necessity of adopting an integrated vision to ensure a successful open government initiative and a real change of culture toward openness.
The continued refusal to properly fund the Office of the Information Commissioner has led to an increased backlog of complaints, which can only be described as a concerted effort to deny Canadians’ right to timely review of government decisions on disclosure.
The most extraordinary regression of access to information rights, however, resulted from the passage of Bill C-59, the Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1. This new legislation contains retroactive amendments to the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act exclude the application of the Access to Information Act to long-gun registry records. The effects of this Act includes nullifying a request for these records and subsequent complaints made to my Office, as well as my entire investigation, recommendations to the Minister of Public Safety, and the requester’s ability to seek judicial review from the Federal Court. Essentially, this Act attempts to rewrite history so that the requester’s right to seek this information never existed. The Act also retroactively immunizes Crown servants from any finding of administrative, civil or criminal wrongdoing in relation to the request and destruction of the registry records. With the consent of the complainant, I filed an application for judicial review in Federal Court against the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness pursuant to section 42 of the Access to Information Act in relation to my investigation into an access to information request for the Long-gun Registry. This application has been stayed while the Superior Court of Ontario is considering my application challenging the constitutionality of the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act as amended by the passage of Bill C-59.
Throughout this challenging year, the team at the Office of the Information Commissioner came together like never before to support the Commissioner’s actions to protect Canadians’ quasi-constitutional right of access to government information. They demonstrated resolve, courage, and the highest level of integrity: resolve to continue their important work for Canadians in the face of significant resistance, courage to stand with the Commissioner and demand that the government act at all times in the name of transparency and accountability, and integrity to stand up to attempts to subvert the law of the land and retroactively deny Canadians’ right of access. I am profoundly grateful for their support.