Information Commissioner’s appearance before ETHI Committee
October 5, 2022
(Check against delivery)
Thank you for inviting me to address you once again.
Last May when I appeared before this committee, I painted a rather bleak picture of the state of access to information in 2022.
I was pleased that at the conclusion of my appearance, this committee voted to undertake a study into the access to information and privacy system.
I would recommend that any such study begin with a review of the findings of previous parliamentary committees, as this is far from the first time that Access to information has been the subject of such a study. Unfortunately, past studies resulted in only a few concrete changes. I also note that we are still waiting for a report regarding the review of the Access to Information Regime launched by the Government in 2020.
On this subject, I would invite the committee to consult my submission to this review, which contains 18 recommendations for changes to the Act. Among these are recommendations that would subject Cabinet confidences to the Act, as well as Ministers offices and the Office of the Prime Minister, and recommendations to help with response timelines and limit the scope of exemptions.
My recommendations also contain four suggested areas of focus not requiring legislative change, all of which I would be happy to discuss in detail today:
- Leadership (and by association, culture)
- The need for innovation and more resources
- Duty to document and information management
I would also like to emphasize that respecting the law as it currently exists would represent an important first step to improving the state of access to information. Right now, 30% of access to information requests are not responded to within the legislated timeline, even taking into account extensions—a number that is increasing year after year. Yet, Canada’s Access to Information Act provides no dispensation from its requirements, even in extraordinary circumstances. In my meetings with Ministers and senior officials, I often hear about a shared commitment to the right of access, but at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. Leaders must ensure that their institutions live up to legislative obligations.
This is why this year my statement for Right to Know Week was focused on the theme of accountability: leaders must be held accountable for their institution’s performance in the area of access to information. My provincial and territorial counterparts echoed this at the conclusion of our annual meeting held mid-September, calling leaders of public institutions to play their role of upholding the right of access and promoting transparency.
If there is any hope of improving things, leaders across government institutions must redouble their efforts, ensure that their organizations treat access to information as a collective responsibility, and treat the right of access as the quasi-constitutional right it is.
In closing, as you undertake this study, I will be pleased to appear again before this committee at any time to elaborate on any matter that could potentially help create a better access system for Canadians.
I will now be happy to take your questions.