Remarks by the Information Commissioner of Canada

Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics

Main Estimates: Vote 1b under the Offices of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Canada

May 8, 2018

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Good morning and thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. I am pleased to appear before you today for the first time since my appointment as Information Commissioner of Canada.

Joining me are Layla Michaud, Deputy Commissioner of Investigations and Governance, and Gino Grondin, Deputy Commissioner, Legal Services and Public Affairs.

Let me first thank you for placing your confidence in me to carry out the duties of Information Commissioner. It is an honour to serve Canadians in this role and I look forward to the next seven years of working to ensure openness and transparency at the federal level.

My first two months on the job have been a busy and interesting time of learning.

I met with each and every employee at the office during my first two weeks.  It did not take long for me to see that I have an excellent — and experienced — management team, as well as a very dedicated and professional staff.

My meetings with employees and managers allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the work done by my office. I also gained a greater appreciation of the 35 years of institutional knowledge my office holds and the strong foundation I have to build on.

In addition, I became more familiar with the challenges and opportunities the organization faces. This has allowed me to determine where to focus my efforts in the coming months and years.

I have four priorities I would like to share with you.

My first priority is to address the inventory of complaints my office has yet to complete, while investigating new complaints as they arrive. I will also work with my team to improve operational efficiency and streamline the investigation process to reduce delays when possible.

My second priority will be to take steps to implement the anticipated amendments contained in Bill C-58. These proposed changes present potential operational challenges for my office. For example, if Bill C-58 is enacted as currently drafted, my office will have to manage, potentially for a number of years, three distinct complaint and investigation processes due to transition periods in the Bill.

My third priority will be to ensure that the day-to-day work of my office is open and transparent. I will also stress these values in my interactions with institutions, members of Parliament and Canadians. In addition, work is already under way to enhance and refresh my office’s web and social media presence.

My goal is to make the complaints process simple and transparent for Canadians. I also want to provide more guidance to both complainants and institutions on the investigation process and decisions taken, and more timely updates on access to information news and activities.

Finally, my team will work closely with institutions to help them meet their obligations under the Access to Information Act and address systemic issues. In the coming months, I intend to personally meet with Access to Information coordinators and the heads of a number of institutions to reinforce the importance of this collaborative approach and promote openness and accountability.

I will embrace every opportunity to collaborate with you and with Parliament as a whole, with institutions, and with other stakeholders, including the Privacy Commissioner.

I will also emphasize the importance of sharing best practices. Canadians deserve to have institutions that are open by default and that make access a priority.

For the coming year, and just like the last 6 years, my office’s Main Estimates are $11.4 million, and I have 93 approved full-time equivalents. Approximately 80% of this funding will go to deliver our investigations program. The other 20% will be dedicated to our corporate services, such as Finance, information technology and human resources.

As you likely know, the government announced $2.9 million in temporary funding for my office in the 2018 federal budget. I plan to these funds to the resolution of complaints.

In particular, I would bolster my investigations team for 2018–19. I would fill vacant permanent positions and re-hire the experienced consultants that my office engaged last year.

This would be good news for Canadians. My office would be able to complete more investigations in the coming year because of this additional funding.

Ideally, however, my office would be provided with permanent funding to allow me to increase the size of my team permanently and, thus, bring stability to my office.

The volume of complaints my office receives is increasing. My team registered nearly 2,600 new files in the year that ended on March 31. That is a 25-percent increase over 2016–17. And, as more and more Canadians submit requests under the Act, the number of complaints will keep growing.

I am very much of the view that temporary funding — and temporary staffing — will not address the challenges my office faces.

To meet this demand, my office needs more permanent funding.

I am pleased that the President of the Treasury Board announced last June that my office’s resources will be increased on an ongoing basis in response to the adoption of Bill C-58. However, this funding will also not be sufficient to meet the growing demands on my office and serve the needs of Canadians.

In closing, I wish to emphasize two aspects of the positive impact an increase in permanent funding would have for my office.

First, as I have said, it would bring stability to the organization. I could hire enough employees to ensure the Act is appropriately applied and to respond to complaints in a timely manner. I could also retain these employees from year to year, providing needed continuity.

Second, I could pursue innovative options for making the investigation process more efficient. I would like to capitalize on technology to enhance my office’s service to Canadians.

That being said, thank you, again, for inviting me to appear today. I look forward to further opportunities to report on the progress I am making against my priorities and on my statutory mandate.

I would be pleased to take your questions.