Letter to the President of the Treasury Board (June 2024)

June 17, 2024

Dear Minister Anand,

I wish to inform you that tomorrow I will be tabling in Parliament my 2023-2024 Annual Report. The report details my office’s activities over the past year, providing updates on complaints, the operations of the Registry, investigations, and the increasing volume of litigation resulting from institutions ignoring or challenging my orders. Please note that the weblink provided above will be activated once the report is tabled.

You will note that my Annual Report states that my office is facing a structural deficit for the coming years; an alarming situation which, unfortunately, will require an off-cycle budget request on my part to resolve. Given that this shortfall has arisen from the collective agreement increases negotiated by the Treasury Board Secretariat, my office has been in regular contact with your officials. A letter to the Minister of Justice will follow, and I will ensure that you are kept informed of the progress in addressing this matter.

The Trust and Transparency Strategy

I am also writing to acknowledge the publication of the Government’s Trust and Transparency Strategy on May 29, 2024. The Government's announcement identified two key pillars that will support the achievement of its objectives: the Access to Information (ATI) Modernization Action Plan and the National Action Plan on Open Government. In this letter, I will limit myself to commenting on the ATI Modernization Action Plan.

As you will recall from our first meeting in your role as President of the Treasury Board, I raised significant concerns to you about the state of access to information across government institutions. These are concerns that I have voiced for some time, and I have repeatedly called upon the Government to turn its attention to this dire state of affairs. The announcement of the Strategy seems to indicate that access to information is back on the Government’s agenda after a long period of neglect.

The ATI Modernization Action Plan

I am pleased to see in the ATI Action Plan some of the subjects I have raised, such as staffing and retention support for the ATI community, increased training on topics such as the duty to document, as well as guidance on information management practices and their impact on access to information.

I must, however, convey to you that I find that the ATI Action Plan lacks concrete commitments with measurable outcomes. In addition, I see a fair number of recycled ideas and initiatives from the Government’s 2022 Access to Information Review Report, but with less ambitious target dates.


I am also disappointed that the actions to address declassification outlined in the ATI Action Plan appear to be disconnected from existing declassification initiatives. Specifically, I am referring to the establishment of a working group and the development of a declassification framework, which were both listed in the Government’s 2022 Report.

In the same vein, the ATI Action Plan missed the opportunity to provide an update on the 2021 declassification pilot project undertaken by Public Safety, which recommended in 2022 the release of between 82% and 100% of 17,528 pages of historical national security records from the 1940s and 1950s. Unfortunately, this pilot project has not resulted in the declassification or disclosure of a single page to date, despite my repeated calls for action. The pilot project report included 8 proposals toward a declassification program, none of which is mentioned in the ATI Action Plan.

In the 2022 Report, the Government had indicated that “The pilot is a first step in determining how a large-scale review of classified historical records might be undertaken, and the manner and extent to which declassification can be actioned in a meaningful way.” In contrast, the ATI Action Plan merely targets 2025-2026 to “Establish a working group to discuss ways to facilitate the processing of ATI requests for highly classified documents”, and to provide general guidance on record categorization.

Disclosure of historical records

When we first met, I took note of your stated desire to address the issue of access to historical records. In a May 30th article in the Globe and Mail, you were quoted as saying that "this is just a first step. We are not done […] we are going to be releasing historical records. Period." Accordingly, I interpret your statement as an indication that the Government is laying the groundwork for sunset clauses, which have been recommended by several commissioners in the past, in its next review of the Access to Information Act. In the absence of strong leadership and governance, experience has shown that non-binding guidelines are insufficient in effecting the necessary change to increase government transparency.

Although I see the new Policy Guidance on the disclosure of Historical Records as an early step in the right direction, there is a risk that any record within the time thresholds will be automatically withheld. Through my investigations, I will monitor how institutions interpret the guidance.

Legislative review in 2025

The Government has set a 2025 start date for the legislative review, but my view remains that changes to the Act are required now so Canadians can benefit from an access system that meets the needs of the 21st century. Without legislative changes, I have little confidence that the desired outcome of greater transparency and more records being released to Canadians will be achieved.

In closing, I do not see how the ATI Action Plan, which you described as “a way forward to improve the administration of the current legislative framework from 2023 to 2026” will be able to achieve this outcome. Given the lack of measurable objectives, I must remain skeptical of both the overall Strategy and the ATI Action Plan until I see evidence of quantifiable, measurable improvements to the access to information system.

I remain available to meet with you to discuss any of the points I have raised in this letter, should you wish to discuss them further. 


Caroline Maynard
Information Commissioner of Canada

c.c.: Treasury Board Secretary Bill Matthews

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