Emergency Situation Facing Canadians in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA)
by Caroline Maynard, Information Commissioner of Canada
June 23, 2021
(Check against delivery)
Good day, my name is Caroline Maynard and I am the Information Commissioner of Canada. Since this is my first appearance before your committee, I thought I would start with a very brief overview of my mandate.
I have no doubt that most of you --if not all of you-- are familiar with the process of making access to information requests.
The overall administration of the Access to Information Act falls under the authority of the Treasury Board Secretariat. This means TBS oversees the handling of access to information requests within government institutions.
My role is to investigate complaints relating to those access requests, normally because the institution is late in responding or because requesters are not satisfied they have received all of the information to which they are entitled.
I also have the power to initiate complaints myself and at times, when an institution appears to have chronic issues relating to the access to information process, I can initiate a systemic investigation of that particular institution. In addition, I can participate in court proceedings when necessary. My office has done this on a number of occasions.
As an Agent of Parliament, I report annually on my activities. Just last week, I tabled my annual report for 2020-21.
I can issue special reports to Parliament in respect of important issues that fall within my powers and functions.
My most recent special report focussed on the systemic investigation I conducted into Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, but in the past twelve months, I have also tabled special reports on systemic investigations conducted into the Department of National Defence and the RCMP.
My goal is to maximize compliance with the Access to Information Act using the full range of tools, and powers at my disposal.
I understand you are currently considering documents you received from PSPC which contain redactions based on the principles of the Access to Information Act. However, these documents have not been requested pursuant to the Access to Information Act, but rather produced through motions adopted in the Chamber and in committee.
My mandate does not encompass reviewing redactions to records produced in contexts outside the access to information regime that I outlined earlier, so I have not been consulted, nor have I been involved in any way. As such, I cannot comment upon the disclosure or redactions of these particular documents.
It is worth noting that if these records were requested under the Act, and I were to receive a complaint concerning their disclosure – I would undertake an investigation that would require that I afford the parties, a reasonable opportunity to make representations prior to reaching any findings. I would also be precluded from commenting publicly on any investigation in progress.
I can however, answer your general questions on the principles of the Act as well as the exemptions that are currently available within in the law. I will leave it at that, as I am mindful of the time. I am happy to be here today to answer your questions.