2021–22 Operating context
A number of factors will affect the operating context of the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC) in 2021–22:
Increase in permanent funding: The OIC received $2.5 million in additional permanent funding in the second half of 2020–21. This funding will help ensure the investigations program is viable and sustainable, and can achieve maximum results for Canadians. During 2021–22, the OIC will be hiring and training a number of new investigators so it can keep up with the volume of new complaints as well as continue to reduce the size of the inventory of complaints that remain open from previous years.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: The pandemic affected the ability of some institutions to respond to access requests, which has had a negative effect on transparency. In addition, with their capacity strained due to office shutdowns and lack of network access, some institutions have been unable to respond promptly to the OIC’s investigations. These challenges are expected to continue in 2021–22.
For its part, the OIC was able to move seamlessly to having employees work remotely starting in March 2020. The OIC expects to have staff returning to the workplace in some capacity in 2021–22. In the meantime, the OIC is taking the opportunity to determine the optimal form for its physical workplace to allow for ongoing collaboration among teams whose members may work variously in the office and remotely.
The OIC expects to continue to receive complaints on matters related to the government’s response to the pandemic and to the service institutions provided to Canadians over the course of the crisis.
Complaint volume: As more and more Canadians use the access to information system, the number of complaints the OIC receives each year continues to grow, and reached an all-time high in 2019–20. As of late January 2021, the volume of new complaints was somewhat reduced from that peak, but was still roughly one third greater than had been typical in recent years. The complaints continue largely to be against one institution, which the Commissioner is seeking to address through a systemic investigation to be completed in 2021.
Commissioner’s order-making and publishing powers: By being able to order institutions to disclose information and publish her decisions on complaints, the Commissioner seeks to communicate clear and consistent interpretations of the Act. The goal of doing so is to maximize access to government information and to build up a body of decisions that shed light on her interpretations of the Act for the benefit of institutions and complainants. The OIC will continue to publish reports and refine its processes for these activities.
Legislative review: The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat’s review of the access system and the Access to Information Act will continue in 2021–22. The Commissioner will contribute to this review, as appropriate, and any review that Parliament chooses to undertake. However, as the Commissioner has stated publicly, there are important steps the government could take now to resolve ongoing operational problems in the access system that do not require legislative change.