Information Commissioner’s appearance before the Standing Committee on National Defence

February 26, 2024
Ottawa, ON

(Check against delivery)

Thank you for inviting me to speak to this committee.

Since this is my very first appearance before your committee, I would like to give you an overview of my mandate as Canada’s Information Commissioner.

To understand my mandate, it is important to recognize that I am an independent agent of Parliament whose role is defined under the Access to Information Act.

The Access to Information Act provides a right of access to information in accordance with the following principles:

  • That government information should be available to the public;
  • That necessary exceptions to the right of access should be limited and specific; and
  • That decisions on disclosure of government information should be reviewed independently of government.

The Treasury Board Secretariat holds the overall responsibility of administering the Act. This includes providing guidance and tools to government institutions.

Access to information requests can be made for any records under the control of a government institution. About 260 institutions are subject to the Act, including the Department of National Defence.

Each institution is responsible for responding to the access to information requests it receives. My role as Information Commissioner is to investigate complaints relating to those requests.

Complaints are submitted to my Office when requesters are not satisfied with the amount of time that it is taking for an institution to respond, or if they believe that they have not received all of the information to which they are entitled. 

So far, this current fiscal year, I have registered 103 complaints against the Department of National Defence. As of today, the Department ranks 6th in terms of the highest number of complaints received by my office.

At the conclusion of an investigation, I have the power to issue any order against the institution, including the disclosure of information to requesters.

My orders are legally binding. When they receive an order, institutions must implement it unless they apply to the Federal Court for a review.

This year, I have issued orders in 29 investigations against the Department of National Defence, mainly on timeliness of responses to access requests.

In several of these investigations, I found that it was a lack of responsiveness from some business units that affected the Department’s ability to respond to the requests in accordance with the requirements of the Act.

As I have often noted in statements on the importance of transparency within the federal government, senior leadership is key to influencing corporate culture change.

This leadership must be extended to information management practices and internal communications protocols in order to ensure compliance with the Act.

This brings me to give you an update on recent investigations I concluded against the Department of National Defence.

Last June, I ordered the Minister of National Defence to release records on DND’s COVID-19 policies by November 30, 2023. These policies were requested through an access to information request made the year before.

The Department told my office it would comply with the order. However, it did not meet the November deadline.

This is why, last December, I filed an application for a writ of mandamus to compel the Minister of National Defence to comply with my order.

This is the second time I have made this type of application as a result of an institution ignoring my orders.

Last week, I filed two new applications to compel the Minister of National Defence to comply with orders that should have been respected in November and December 2023. These files are currently ongoing with the Federal Court. As such, I cannot discuss the particulars of these proceedings. 

However, I can tell you that this type of extraordinary recourse to compel an institution to comply with orders issued under the Access to Information Act should not be required. It raises doubts about my authority and more importantly, the credibility of the federal access to information system.

I am now happy to answer your questions.

Thank you.

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