2020-2021 Operating context
As more and more Canadians use the access to information system, the number of complaints the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) receives each year continues to grow. New complaints more than doubled in 2019–20, resulting in the largest volume, by far, in OIC history. The OIC expects this elevated volume to continue for at least the next two years.
The OIC has made notable gains in efficiency in recent years, closing 76-percent more complaints in 2018–19 over the previous year and closing more than that year’s total in 2019–20. However, the organization remains challenged by having to operate with insufficient investigative capacity for its workload and only receiving temporary funding to address the growing inventory of open complaints. This has prevented the organization from moving seamlessly from year to year with a consistent complement of investigators. With sufficient permanent funding—which the OIC has requested through Budget 2020—the OIC would be able to maximize the impact of its efforts and the results it could achieve for Canadians. Without it, the integrity of the OIC’s program would be at significant risk, in the form of substantial delays in investigating complaints and slower response times.
Increased interest in access also has an impact on the institutions with which the OIC works to resolve complaints, since heavy workloads affect how quickly they can respond to investigators’ queries. Likewise, the high demand for access specialists across the federal public service has led to higher than desired staff turnover at the OIC. The OIC is attempting to counter this by offering meaningful training and development opportunities, and expanding its pool of potential employees from which it recruits.
The OIC will continue in 2020-21 to implement the amendments to the Access to Information Act that became law in June 2019. These changes—including allowing the Commissioner to order institutions to take specific steps to resolve complaints, publish the final reports of her investigations and rule on requests from institutions to decline to process access to information requests in certain circumstances—have had a significant on operations. In that context, the OIC is continuing to pursue process improvements and is further harnessing technology to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of investigations.
With the first five-year review of the Act scheduled to commence in 2020-21, the OIC may again face legislative amendments that affect operations.