2015-2016 7. Looking ahead
On the horizon for investigations
New tools for complaints and investigations
The Commissioner plans to introduce an online complaint form in 2016–2017. This will make it easier for complainants to submit material and save time at the beginning of the investigation process.
The Commissioner is also developing an investigation manual and a code of procedure to help investigators, complainants and institutions understand their and the Commissioner’s roles and responsibilities during the investigation process.
Scientists and the media
In March 2013, the Commissioner commenced a systemic investigation in response to a complaint made by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Victoria and Democracy Watch (background: “Scientists and the media”. This investigation sought to determine whether government communications and media relations policies were impeding the right of access under the Access to Information Act by restricting government scientists from publicly communicating about their research.
This investigation is in its final phase and the Commissioner intends to report the results of this systemic investigation to Parliament 2016–2017.
Targeted investigation strategies
When necessary, the Commissioner groups investigations together so she can create targeted strategies for these complaints and better manage her caseload. Next year, in addition to her ongoing targeted strategies that focus on complaints relating to national security, international affairs and defence matters, and complaints against the Canada Revenue Agency, the Commissioner will also focus on complaints against Canada Post and its use of the exemption for the economic interests of certain government institutions (section 18.1). She will also focus on the application of the exemption for personal information (section 19) relied upon by institutions in compassionate disclosure situations.
The Commissioner and her staff strive for investigative excellence. In 2016–2017, the Commissioner will continue to provide ongoing investigative and legal training as part of her exceptional workplace initiatives.
In addition to her blog, the Commissioner will continue to implement a digital strategy to further engage access stakeholders and Canadians through the use of social media and other online tools.
Right to Know Day and celebration of 250 years of freedom of information
2016 is a milestone year for freedom of information. This year’s World Press Freedom Day, which occurred on May 3, 2016, focused on freedom of information as a fundamental freedom and as a human right. September 28, 2016, which has traditionally been recognised as international Right to Know Day, has further been recognised by UNESCO as “International Day for the Universal Access to Information.” 2016 also marks the 250th anniversary of the world’s first freedom of information law, which was passed in Sweden and Finland in 1766.
The Commissioner is preparing to mark the occasion. Plans are in development and will be released closer to the celebration date in the fall.
Upcoming legislative amendments and government review of the Access to Information Act
On March 31,2016, the President of the Treasury Board made two significant announcements at the Canadian Open Dialogue Forum with respects to the Access to Information Act.
The first was that the government plans to introduce legislation to amend the Act in the fall of 2016 or early 2017, based on the commitments in their election platform, which were further reiterated in the ministerial mandate letters. These amendments include empowering the Commissioner with the ability to order government information to be released, and that the Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and ministers’ offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts. Other significant improvements to the Act, identified during consultations with the public and in collaboration with parliamentarians, could also be included in the legislation.
The second announcement was that the government plans on undertaking a comprehensive review of the Act in 2018.
On May 19, 2016, the Commissioner proposed to parliamentarians and the government possible amendments to include in the first phase of the modernization of the Act, to be adopted in the short term. The Commissioner looks forward to working with the government and Parliament on improving the Act.