Information Commissioner’s appearance before ETHI Committee
March 7, 2023
(Check against delivery)
Thank you for inviting me to appear before this committee once again in the context of your ongoing study of the access to information and privacy system.
During my last appearance before this committee, I noted that I was looking forward to the conclusion of the Government’s review of the access to information regime, which was launched in 2020.
Last December, the Government finally released the final report on its review.
After such a long wait, what I read was honestly disappointing. I posted a statement expressing my dissatisfaction with the government’s report on my office’s website.
In my view, this report is deficient across the board. But in the interest of time, I will limit my focus to a couple of key points.
I am pleased that the government took note of the concerns I have raised regarding lengthy consultations between institutions, as well as the lack of a declassification framework and the resulting negative impacts these have on the access regime.
However, I find it unfortunate that there are no proposals for concrete actions to go with the government’s analysis.
Indeed, I find few–if any–tangible commitments within the report’s pages that will begin to effect change now in areas that require immediate attention.
More importantly, it appears that the Government has decided no further modifications to the law are to be made, at least not in the near term.
When the 2019 amendments were introduced, I noted that these represented a step in the right direction, but that more changes would be required.
Many legislative changes that have been proposed by experts in their submissions to the review merit the Committee’s careful consideration.
These include recommendations to:
- broaden the scope of the Access to Information Act to cover Ministers’ offices as well as the Prime Minister’s Office
- make Cabinet confidences subject to the Act, and
- reduce the scope of some exemptions, including section 21 on Advice and recommendations.
I also have no confidence that bolstering Canadians’ right of access to information will figure prominently in the Government’s financial priorities.
The fact that access to information has disappeared from ministerial mandate letters, and that I have heard nothing from the Government regarding my request for additional funding speaks volumes.
On the topic of funding, I strongly believe that a model that gives the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister the power to limit the required funding of Agents of Parliament is contrary to our oversight role.
As agents of Parliament, we report directly to Parliament rather than to the Cabinet or a particular minister. Frankly, the manner in which we are funded should reflect this independence.
My priority has always been to attack our inventory and I have been able to significantly increase my office’s efficiency since I became Commissioner, as shown in the reference document I submitted to this committee.
But we have reached the limit of what can be done with our current level of funding.
The Government may have turned the page on access to information, but I have not, which is why I look forward to the results of this committee’s study.
In closing, July 2023 marks the 40th Anniversary of the Access to Information Act. On the eve of this milestone, I see little to celebrate.
Much remains to be done for Canada to catch up with international standards on access and transparency and tackle the enormous challenges faced by the system.
This concludes my opening remarks. I will be happy to answer your questions.